Occupy Sebastopol Local Flavor, Global Vision

17May/12Off

Shame on SSU protest of Sady Weill, CEO Citigroup, a Success

After four years of teaching various humanities courses at SSU, I’m sad to report that our school recently sank to a new low. It awarded the notorious banker Sandy Weill, retired CEO of Citigroup, and his wife Joan honorary doctorates. They purchased them for $12 million, which they gave to the Green Music Center, an essentially non-educational pet project of President Ruben Arminana that has dominated fund-raising at SSU.

“These awards by SSU are reprehensible in light of Sandy Weill's role in bringing about the economic crisis that has seized this nation,” said SSU sociology professor Noel Byrne. “The consequences have been dire for the SSU community of faculty, staff, students, graduates, alumni and their families, in the form of elevated tuition, reduced funding for education, auctioned homes, dashed dreams, burdensome debts, loss of employment opportunities, and resultant tragedies of an array of sorts.”

The May 12 graduation was a disgrace. When it was announced that the Weills would receive an honorary degree, students, faculty, and alumni began organizing a direct action against that dishonorable degree. Occupy activists and other community members joined, as did groups such as the Living Wage Coalition and the Peace and Justice Center.

With respect for the hard-working graduating students who earned their degrees, the peaceful action focused on educating the 10,000 students, faculty, family members, and friends who attended the two graduation ceremonies. Thousands of flyers documenting Weill’s substantial abuses as the architect of subprime mortgages and consequential foreclosures and evictions were passed out. Dozens of articles appeared in publications around the region, nationally, and even internationally. Radio stations and a television station reported the action on news and talk shows. A county-wide coalition came into being which has helped build community and solidarity.

Dressed in black, students, family members, faculty, alumni, and others turned their backs in a dignified shunning when the doctorates were bestowed.

California’s greatness is due partly to the extensive public higher education that used to be available here. That system is being privatized and corporatized by the 1% to further meet its elite needs, which this doctorate represents.

The last issue of the campus newspaper, the May 8 Star, ran the banner headline “Day of Shame at SSU” across the front-page, written by its news editor. The opinion page had two further articles, one entitled “Day of Shame: Wrong Place, Wrong Time” by the editor-in-chief. Those articles, as well as others, are at ShameOnSSU.org.

The newspaper appeared on stands Monday; it was soon taken away. A faculty member wrote the following on the faculty email listserve: “An SSU staff member observed SSU employees removing issues of the Star that had front page information on the controversy regarding the honorary degree process. This is truly disheartening.”

An SSU vice-president admitted, “Some newspapers were removed as part of efforts to clean the campus for graduation - something they do every year. I have directed the Facilities Team to return the papers.”

However, another faculty member reported the following: “I remember there being Star newspapers after nearly every Spring semester I’ve worked here. Some years I’ve been able to grab a copy well into July.” Though copies may have been temporarily returned, they soon were vanished again.

“The editor of the Star estimates that 95 percent of newspapers have been removed,” wrote the Star’s faculty advisor. “This is unacceptable and a shot across the bow of the First Amendment. These so-called cleaning efforts that included the Star removal are an affront to free speech on our campus. The Day of Shame is now. Is this some attempt to cover up our controversies? I join with those who believe in freedom of speech to ask that a full accounting of what happened to these papers be made.”

(Shepherd Bliss teaches college, runs a farm in Sebastopol, and can be reached at [email protected].)

Filed under: Uncategorized