Protesters Skewer Sonoma State Honorary Degree, Vow No Graduation Disruption

Though some are against the university's decision to give honorary degrees to wealthy donors, many don't want their graduation ceremony disrupted.


Students are conflicted about a demonstration planned at Sonoma State University Saturday — at the same time that an estimated 2,300 students are graduating — to protest the university's award of an honorary doctorate degree to the Weills, who donated millions to the university's Green Music Center.

A growing number of students have vetted concerns through social media, saying they're upset the cermony could be disrupted by protesters.

However, organizers have defended the protest, saying it won't disrupt the ceremony.

"It does not intend in any way to disrupt graduation proceedings," according to organizers — a coalition of Sonoma State faculty, students and local Occupy activists. "On the contrary, this is an urgent call to defend the integrity of the ceremony and denounce the unacceptable insult that Mr. Weill's dishonorable doctorate degree represents."

Commencement for the Schools of Science and Technology and Social Science are scheduled for 9 a.m., and for the Schools of Education, Arts and Humanities and Business and Economics at 3 p.m.The graduation ceremonies typically draw 10,000 people to SSU's Commencement lawn on the Rohnert Park campus.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a writer and commentator of the hip-hop generation whose topics include culture, politics, and education.

Protesters are upset university will present an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Sanford I. Weill and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree to his wife Joan.

The couple donated $12 million to SSU to the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn and Commons at the nearly completed Donald and Maureen Green Music Center at SSU.

Sanford Weill is a former chief executive at Citigroup, which has hit a focal point in the protest. Students, faculty and members of the county's Occupy movement have announced that's the crux of the reason they plan to protest him receiving an honorary degree, though the university has stood behind its decision to honor the couple.

Dubbed the "Day of Shame on Sonoma State University" is to protest Citibank's role in home foreclosures and its federal bailout, protesters said.

Graduating student Melanie Campbell Sanders said on a Facebook post she is "compelled to protest."

"My family has waited years and years and years to watch me walk across that stage, and Sanford Weill's purchased doctorate degree will literally insult that honor to its core," Sanders said.

One faculty member, Cynthia Boaz, questioned the protest in a Facebook post. She said it will disrupt the students' graduation ceremony and "alienate more people than it will recruit to the cause."

SSU President Ruben Arminana said the Weills, who are from New York and own a home in Sonoma County, have a long history of philanthropy, and a commitment to healthcare, the arts and education.

This article is by Angela Hart and Bay City News.

Sonya May 13, 2012 at 12:42 AM
For He’s a Jolly Good Scoundrel: On Sanford Weill Robert Scheer April 19, 2012 "So much for the academy’s (American Academy of Arts & Sciences) proclaimed “230-plus year history of recognizing some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists, and civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders." ... Weill is the Wall Street hustler who led the successful lobbying to reverse the Glass-Steagall law, which long had been a barrier between investment and commercial banks. That 1999 reversal permitted the merger of Travelers and Citibank, thereby creating Citigroup as the largest of the “too big to fail” banks eventually bailed out by taxpayers. Weill was instrumental in getting then-President Bill Clinton to sign off on the Republican-sponsored legislation that upended the sensible restraints on finance capital that had worked splendidly since the Great Depression... Weill himself bailed out shortly before the (2008) crash. His retirement from what was then the world’s largest financial conglomerate was chronicled in the New York Times under the headline “Laughing All the Way From the Bank.” The article told of “an enormous wooden plaque” in the bank’s headquarters that featured a likeness of Weill with the inscription “The Man Who Shattered Glass-Steagall.” That’s the man the American Academy of Arts & Sciences now honors, among others, for “extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve.” Disgusting."
will ackley May 13, 2012 at 03:48 PM
The Obama administration promised transparency . The occupy movement has given it to us. They are relentless and unstoppable, I applaud them. Thier are so many areas where America needs to clean up its act, Ocuppy is cleaning house so we can get back to greatness thank you Sonya for a well writes and informed comment. We're fortunate to have you paying attention for us.
Richard May 13, 2012 at 04:42 PM
It is impossible to select people for honorary degrees who will meet everyone's approval. Here are some recent honorary degree recipients from different universities: Paul McCartney, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (president of Liberia), James Houghton (businessman), John Chambers (CEO of Cisco); Rita Dove (former US Poet Laureate). It appears that show business and big business are overly represented in honorary degrees. Perhaps some do not wish to recognize big business. On the other hand, I am not troubled by the awarding of an honorary degree to a big business person who makes it possible to enhance the education of others. The honorary degree counts as nothing -- it will in no way enhance the personal reputation of the Weills, both of whom have a long history of support for educational institutions. And it permitted Sonoma State to complete the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center -- something that will benefit Sonoma State students both directly and indirectly.
Sonya May 13, 2012 at 07:24 PM
@ Will - Thanks, I didn't write the article, but do appreciate your comment. :>)
Dorothy May 14, 2012 at 02:51 PM
The Weills have supported education with generous donations to Cornell Medical College, University of Michigan and have founded the National Academy Foundation which funds charter schools that are similar to private schools in the equality of their education. There are NAF schools in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Richmond as well as all over the country. The donation to Sonoma State will help the school in numerous ways. It is not unusual for a business person whose generosity extends to education and the arts to receive honorary degrees.


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