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Day of Shame at Sonoma State University

By Taylor Dickinson
On May 8, 2012

Graduation is a time of celebration for the students who have worked for years to earn their degrees, many building up substantial amounts of loan debt in the process. This year, the day of graduation will also be known as the Day of Shame at Sonoma State University.
For this year's commencement, SSU administration has decided to award Sanford Weill an honorary degree at this Saturday's graduation. Weill is a major donor to the Green Music Center project and also recently named on Time Magazine's list of "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis."
Faculty and students alike are in an outrage at this decision, and have worked together to create the peaceful protest that will be the Day of Shame.
"The details of the peaceful protest are still being determined. However, there has been a consensus of our ShameOnSSU group that it be peaceful," said Shepherd Bliss, an instructor of Humanities and one of the organizers of the coalition, in an e-mail.
According to a press release, a recently organized coalition of SSU faculty, students and local Occupy activists is creating a public demonstration in response to learning that former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill will be receiving what the group calls a dishonorable degree at the graduation ceremony on Saturday.
The press release tells of Weill's background as a driving force in shattering the Glass-Steagall Act, which had prohibited Wall Street investment firms from gambling with their depositors' money for decades. As a result, it had a hand in the housing crisis of 2008, a plague of foreclosures that devastated many communities, and even the economic crisis that makes going to college so difficult today.
 Weill enabled the merger that created Citigroup, which was a major player in criminal banking practices that were unleashed afterward. 
The press release goes on to tell how Sandy Weill retired incredibly wealthy, despite Citigroup requiring $45 billion in government investment and a $300 billion guarantee of its bad assets to avoid bankruptcy.
Weill is now being awarded with a degree in Humane Letters for his $12 million donation toward the completion of the Green Music Center, with money he made that helped collapse the economy to the state that it is in today, according to the press release.
"My original student loan from Citigroup, Sanford Weill's source of his wealth, has doubled through an extremely easy default from $15,000 to $29,367," said Melanie Sanders in an e-mail.
Sanders is a graduating senior who has worked on her BA for 19 years, and a victim of the subprime loan crisis. As a result, she, as a single mother, has had her home taken away from her and her children.
"I will never recover from this debt that Sandy Weill himself, profited from.  I am overwhelmingly disgusted that my school chose to do this at my graduation ceremony," said Sanders.
Many are in agreement with Sanders statement and are currently discussing what exactly the protest will entail.
"The main idea being discussed now is for faculty and students who are willing to turn their backs on Sandy Weill when he is awarded this dishonorable degree," said Bliss. "Much of the activity will occur outside the ceremony itself. It is our intention to be respectful of all students who worked hard and earned their degrees."
The ideas as well as the protest itself have been discussed by many who are included in SSU's Senate-Talk forum. Some are in disagreements with the protest happening at what is supposed to be a celebration for students, while others have suggested many ideas as to what the protest could be.
The press release encourages attendees to wear black for the silent stand against Weill. Carolyn Epple, an instructor of anthropology, had many ideas to put forward, and agreed with one suggestion about simply laughing when Weill is awarded with his honorary degree.
"This is the man who took my home. I have nothing to laugh about concerning him. I want him arrested for crimes against humanity because housing is a human right. He is a scoundrel of the highest order," wrote Epple. "But, then again, the laughing might work."
Graduation SSU student Chris Bowers is also helping organize the protest, and sent out an e-mail to faculty to help dispel some myths. He said that the protest will not be disruptive to the ceremony and that they acknowledge and respect graduation as a meaningful day for everyone.
"The very fact that Mr. Weill is getting this honorary degree is disruptive to me and others. It reminds me of SSU's neo-liberal priorities and makes me feel embarrassed for my school," wrote Bowers.
Another myth is that the protest is lead by faculty, when it fact it is organized by a combination of SSU faculty, students, alumni, and other concerned community members. Bowers also states that they are not politicizing the day, but responding the fact that by giving Weill this degree, it is already politicized as it stands.
"Please know that we are doing this because we care about our university and we are seeing something happening we feel is wrong," said Bowers.
The Day of Shame is set to start at noon on the campus. According to Bliss, this is the next stage in a campaign. The young and evolving campaign, as Bliss describes, is to defend public higher education from the privatization and corporatization of the one percent, who oppress the 99 percent.
"It is a campaign for direct democracy, which is under threat by the ruling class, which Arminana and Weill represent; the 1 percent here in Sonoma County," wrote Bliss.
To learn more or sign the petition to urge the CSU Board of Trustees to revoke Weill's honorary degree, visit shameonssu.org and shameonssu.org/get-involved.
 


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