Draft Vision for Academic Excellence and Academic Reorganization

Karen Moranski, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
August 7, 2023

DRAFT Academic Reorganization Vision Statement:

Academic reorganization at Sonoma State University will create a thriving, sustainable, and inclusive community of faculty and staff committed to teaching and learning. The process and resulting structure will promote collaboration, cooperation, and common ground for both faculty and students and encourage creativity and real-world problem solving. It will foster the development of new academic programs and strengthen existing programs. It will enhance the ability of Academic Affairs to be student-centered, share curriculum, and achieve our goals for enrollment, student success, and graduation. Academic reorganization will foster student, faculty, and staff success and encourage SSU community members to achieve their educational and career goals and contribute to the public good.

As you know, the Academic Affairs Division has been in planning for a year to determine the best model of department and school reorganization for Academic Affairs. This month, we begin a detailed process of consultation that will lead to decision-making by the end of the Fall semester.   

In preparation for the Chairs Retreat tomorrow, August 8, 2023, which begins the official brainstorming phase of the reorganization process, I am offering up the following draft vision for the reorganization. I view this document as a draft because both the vision and plan should be collectively created, and I hope you will have an opportunity to read this “white paper” and provide feedback (see below). The process we go through this fall may shift or add to the vision, and that iteration is a key component of the values that undergird the process. Our values are partially framed in our Strategic Plan, but I think the ultimate goal of reorganization ought to be academic excellence, so below is a vision for Academic Excellence before moving into a vision for Academic Reorganization.

What is Academic Excellence at Sonoma State?

While we have worked hard over the last six years to embrace some of our Strategic Plan priorities and core values, the Academic Master Planning (AMP) process and the Academic Reorganization allow us to think deeply about what we mean by academic excellence and leadership cultivation in a student-centered context. I encourage you to think deeply about what excellence looks like at a public liberal arts institution that is Hispanic-Serving and that serves undergraduate, graduate, PBAC students. What does excellence look like for students? What does it look like for faculty? How does it look to the community we serve? I am not talking about just “doing what we can with what we have” or even about helping students get jobs when they graduate (although that must be more of an intentional focus than ever before). I am talking about excellence, which I think means the following for Sonoma State University:

  • We will educate our students with deep respect for their multiple, intersectional identities using inclusive pedagogies and content that reflects and honors those identities and seeks to radically transform the lives of our students and their families–and the state of California, the nation, and the world–for the better. Racism, white supremacy, discrimination, and sexual harassment will have no place on our campus, and our teaching and learning must reflect our commitment to inclusion, belonging, and safe spaces for all.

  • We will provide our students with the tools to navigate fractured and complex social, economic, and political realities. We will teach students how to think deeply, question and reflect on what they hear and read, write and speak convincingly, understand numbers and data so they are not fooled by them and can use them to make a point, express creativity, innovate, and push beyond boundaries in their research, their clinical experiences and internships, their performances, and their workplaces, and demonstrate deep and abiding care for the welfare of the people around them and the planet. We will know what that kind of education looks like at the undergraduate, graduate, and PBAC levels and be able to talk about it every day on this campus.

  • We will put our students in the world with the skills to draw and build on the knowledge they acquire to contribute meaningfully to society. We are a university in the public sphere committed to the public good. Community engagement, engaged citizenship, social responsibility, and leadership need to mean something in every sphere of our academic life at Sonoma State, so that we can teach students how to be in the “real” world, how to build meaningful careers, how to be activists for their causes, how to lead change and growth, and how to work with other people in positive and sustainable ways.

  • We will educate our students with a deep commitment to place. The AMP’s Liberal Arts Identity Working Group argues that “SSU has a strong sense of place with natural preserves as living laboratories and community-engaged learning opportunities to give students real-world experiences while supporting the growth and development of our region.” Every single faculty member and student–every program, department, school, and college (whatever names we use)--should know how they contribute to a sense of place, however we define it (e.g., Sonoma State, Sonoma County, the North Bay, Northern California, the State of California, and the United States).

  • We will educate our students in a way that pushes them to be their very best selves. Excellence is not about elitism and it is not just about our reputation or rankings. It is about convincing our community, our students and their parents, and ourselves that we are making an impact. We have to know it, measure it, speak it, and yes, market it, so we can build enrollment and make Sonoma State a first choice among students for college and master’s level education.

What is the Vision for Academic Reorganization?

If we know what we mean by academic excellence, then we reorganize to create the conditions that produce it. Admittedly, we all know we are reorganizing in response to a budget deficit that must be eliminated, but if we reorganize simply to save money, then we do as little as possible to achieve the result and only care about the “bottom line.” That mindset leads to preserving what we have while grudgingly meeting the monetary goal. That path leads to avoiding change and avoiding innovation. We can do better than that.

We have an opportunity to make real and lasting progress towards academic excellence, and I think we would be deeply remiss if we do not take the opportunity to reimagine, reinvent, repurpose, and rethink the academic structure at Sonoma State. This is our chance.

Academic reorganization at the department, school, and college levels is about creating a structure that supports faculty and staff in the work they do to facilitate teaching and learning.  Academic reorganization should achieve three objectives:

  • Flexible and creative structures that support the development and enhancement of excellent liberal arts and professional academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels

  • Collaboration, cooperation, and common ground between the disciplines to a) foster interdisciplinary, team-based approaches to solving wicked problems and b) encourage creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation among faculty and students.

  • A community of teachers and scholars who contribute to making Sonoma State an exciting, welcoming, and inclusive intellectual home that values shared governance and encourages promising teaching practices and impactful scholarship, research, and creative activity.

The draft vision statement is at the top of this document.