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Lawyers' group calls on Sonoma State to delay student center

  • Architect's rendering of new student center at Sonoma State University. (SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY)

Sonoma State University administrators improperly “intervened” in an April student election that led to new fees for a student center, a San Francisco nonprofit legal organization says.

“The administration...abused its authority and unquestionably cast a dark shadow” over the election, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area said a letter to SSU President Ruben Armiñana and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed.

The Lawyers Committee is acting on behalf of faculty and students who had opposed the $300-a-year fee, said attorney Robert Rubin.

Rubin, in his letter, asked that the scheduled Oct. 10 groundbreaking of the new $65 million student center be delayed until the allegations are investigated and addressed.

Armiñana on Tuesday rejected that notion.

“We will go forward with the groundbreaking when the project is approved by the trustees,” he said. CSU trustees are to vote on it Sept. 21 or 22.

Election critics claim that then-Vice President of Student Affairs, Chuck Rhodes, emailed residential students arguing for the fee, and then refused to give the same email list to those who were campaiging against the fee.

Rubin said he has reviewed but not yet fully investigated the charges.

“We looked into the situation, talked into a number of people involved, and made some judgments as to credibility of the allegations,” he said. “We believe it's a serious enough matter to intervene and say, ‘Hey Sonoma State, this doesn't smell good.'”

No legal action has been taken but the group may seek an injunction preventing the groundbreaking if the university does not respond, Rubin said.

“This is really the only way to stop the building from being built,” said SSU sophomore Anthony Gallino, who was among those who asked Rubin to advocate on their behalf. Gallino led the student campaign against the fee, which passed by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

The SSU Academic Senate is set this week to start its own process requesting an independent inquiry into the election. That step, approved by the Senate in a May, was prompted by Gallino's complaints.

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