About The Hutchins School Photo of the courtyards and Hutchins School birdbath in Carson Hall

The Hutchins School: A Brief History

Sonoma State University was founded as "The Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College" in 1960. In the spring of 1961, "Sonoma State College" was established in Rohnert Park, California. Dr. Warren Olson was hired by Sonoma State College in 1962 as its first professor of Philosophy and Humanities.

On January 5, 1968, Sonoma State began a two-year trial called the "Tutorials in Liberal Arts and Science Program." However, Dr. Olson suggested the name be changed to the "Robert Maynard Hutchins School of Liberal Studies." Olson explained that as the former dean of Yale University and president of the University of Chicago, Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins had been devoted to educational reform and to the idea that American democracy could not be realized unless the country's citizens were comprehensively educated. Upon an affirmative reply from Dr. Hutchins himself to Dr. Olson's request, the program was christened as the Robert Hutchins School of Liberal Studies. The Hutchins School moved into its permanent home in Rachel Carson Hall in 1975.

The Hutchins School of Liberal Studies has gone through many incarnations in its 47-year history, but still holds fast to Dr. Hutchins' key principle: "The University is a community of scholars that has as its primary purpose to unsettle the minds of students, to widen their horizons, [and] to inflame their intellect."

Program Overview
The Hutchins School has several distinctive features:

  • Small seminar courses organized around themes or questions, rather than the traditional division of subject matter into disciplines
  • Three different educational tracks that allow students to pursue the interdisciplinary studies of their choice or a career in elementary education
  • A diverse faculty, each member trained in more than one field of study, to help students learn how to approach a problem from several points of view
  • Independent study projects and internships that help bridge academic studies with career placements and community service

The Hutchins curriculum covers important issues and areas of inquiry ranging from literature, arts and media, psychology, social and cultural history, the sciences, philosophy, anthropology and contemporary affairs. As freshmen and sophomore students complete their General Education in the Hutchins School, they can also take elective courses of their choice and pre-major requirements for other fields of study. After completing the Hutchins general education program, students can continue in the Liberal Studies major, or transfer to another major at SSU.

In Dr. Martin Nemko's book, How to Get an Ivy League Education at a State University, he cites Sonoma State’s Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, stating, “Hutchins is not only one of the more enduring, but one of the best interdisciplinary undergraduate programs in the country. The small seminars that teach students to listen, to rethink their position, to reexamine their personal values, to develop critical thinking skills, and to become intellectually engaged as well as verbally articulate, and the curricular emphasis on values and ethics strike me as the keys to its success. To the outside observer, Hutchins is not only the most nationally significant feature of Sonoma State University; it is one of the most impressive features of the entire CSU system.”

Robert Maynard Hutchins, 1899-1977
"Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes different points of view."
Photo by Myron Davis