A recently organized coalition of Sonoma State faculty, students and local Occupy activists is calling for a public demonstration of outrage in response to the announcement that former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill will receive an honorary degree at SSU’s graduation ceremony this year. People all over the country are invited to the Sonoma State campus for a Day of Shame on Sonoma State University. The protest begins at noon on Saturday, May 12, and does not intend in any way to disrupt graduation proceedings. 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.
Sanford (Sandy) Weill was the driving force in shattering the Glass-Steagall Act, which for decades had prohibited Wall Street investment firms from gambling with their depositors’ money. Its reversal opened the gates for the housing crisis in 2008, the plague of foreclosures devastating our communities and the economic recession that has stolen our children’s future. Mr. Weill thus enabled the merger that created Citigroup, a major player in the criminal banking practices thereby unleashed. Given his unquestioned responsibility in this, Time Magazine recently included Weill’s name in its list of the “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.”
A major purveyor of toxic subprime mortgages, Citigroup required $45 billion in government investment and a $300 billion guarantee of its bad assets to avoid bankruptcy; yet Sandy Weill retired an incredibly wealthy man shortly before the “banking collapse he helped engineer” required a tax-payer bail-out. Now Mr. Weill is being rewarded with a degree in Humane Letters for his donation of 12 million of his ill-gotten dollars to complete SSU’s construction of the controversial Green Musical Center. SSU Sociology Professor Peter Phillips asks, “Is this a doctorate honoring anything besides being the largest recent donor to the Green Music Center? It seems to smack of buying the honor instead of earning it.”
In fact, many of the students in the SSU graduating class this year are leaving school saddled with Citigroup student loans, all part of the trillion dollar student loan debt from which graduates across the nation will be struggling for years to escape. The courageous obligation to protest Weill’s honorary degree is made quite clear in graduating SSU student Melanie Sanders’ words: “I must now call my grandma and explain that I will be protesting at my graduation ceremony. I am personally offended that he will be at my graduation and receiving a degree.”
Many attribute this offensive gesture to the stewardship of SSU President Ruben Armiñana. They argue that, by honoring a man who, in the process of amassing his fortune, has inflicted so much suffering and destruction on countless lives – including many in this very graduating class – Armiñana has betrayed the integrity of the California State University system and its mission. The Day of Shame on Sonoma State University is an urgent action organized to give people an opportunity to demonstrate their outrage and publicly denounce the arrogance, greed and fraud that has inverted our social contract and hi-jacked the American Dream as the entitlement of the few, at the expense of the many.
According to organizer Shepherd Bliss, “Seating for 4,000 guests will be set up to accommodate those wanting to be present for 1000 graduates in the morning and another 1000 in the afternoon. This would be an important audience to educate and mobilize, helping them connect the necessary dots between a prominent one percenter and his victims.”
The “Day of Shame on Sonoma State University” starts at noon on the SSU campus at 1801 East Cotati Ave, Rohnert Park, on May 12, 2012. Please respect our commitment to non-violent assembly and protect the integrity of this graduation ceremony, deploying your creativity to inform and articulate compassionate resistance, and honoring the dignity of this treasured moment for students and their families by dressing appropriately in black.