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Sonoma State University student leaders upset over consolidation plans

A new student center is in the process of being built, Friday March 2, 2012 at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:27 p.m.

Sonoma State University student leaders grilled an administrator Friday about why they were not consulted about a plan to consolidate management of SSU's Recreation Center and its soon-to-open Student Center, redefine employees' jobs and eliminate some longtime recreation programs.

“Why isn't it until now that students are being brought in to the process,” Karen Paniagua, president of Associated Students, the university's student government body, asked Neil Markley, SSU's director of entrepreneurial activities.

She and others said students will have little more than a week, during which they have final exams, to comment on and shape the plan, which administrators want to implement starting in July. The school year ends May 3.

“I'm disappointed, seeing as these are student programs funded primarily by students,” said Anthony Gallino, the Associated Students executive vice president.

“I apologize,” said Markley, referring primarily to the leak last week of news about the plan, which provoked concerns including that students could possibly lose their campus jobs.

Recreation Center staff had been ordered not to discuss the proposed changes.

But Markley defended the planning process, which student representatives learned of after it had been underway a year and a half.

Because changes to people's jobs were being discussed, said Markley, it was more appropriate for the talks to take place at the management level.

“There are many ways to do it; that's the way I chose to do it,” he said.

The planning process was slowed, he said, by uncertainty over the prospects of budget cuts that in the end were averted by a November statewide ballot initiative, Proposition 30.

Markly rejected students' request to delay implementation until students and staff had more time to assess and comment on it. ”We don't want to fall into talking it to death,” he said.

The plan would consolidate recreation and student center management. It would reassign the Recreation Center director, strip marketing and administrative responsibilities from staff members but hand them some other duties, and cut some existing programs.

No jobs would be lost, Markley said.

The $60 million student center, approved in a contentious 2011 election and paid for by student fees — as is the Recreation Center — is to open this fall.

The changes are meant to ultimately improve students' experience on campus and make services more cost-effective, partly by sharing resources and expertise across departments that now operate as “silos,” Markley said.

Some students expressed concern that experience and commitment would be lost by restructuring staffers' jobs. “Are you going to lose that specificity of knowledge that has made these programs so great,” asked Patrick Maloney, a student senator.

“What I'm asking perhaps goes against the grain, asking people to be generalists instead of specialists,” said Markley.

“So some of the programs may lose their individual identity, but it's for the greater good,” he said. We can't have it all with the money we have; we just can't.”

Markley mentioned just one program specifically in his discussion of potential cuts: the low-cost Super Kids summer camp staffed by SSU students and open to children ages 5 to 11.

“It's a good program but when you look at the time and energy it takes, is there maybe a better use for that time and energy? I don't know,” he said.

“We are going to have those controversial issues,” he said. “Those are some of the really difficult discussions we're going to have.”

But the talks should have started long ago, said Paniagua. “We should have been included in the planning process, not just consulted now,” she said.

Markley, after the meeting, said: “I have throughout the process let the stakeholders know that we were attempting to do something different, I gave out some vague details. It was never kept a secret.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)

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