Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana has withdrawn for now his request for a $65 million student center.
Armiñana, who two weeks ago was emphatic that a groundbreaking for the center would take place Oct. 10, said he wants to consult further with students about the center.
“I thought it was appropriate to take the further step,” he said in an email Friday. He had asked on Thursday that the financing request be removed from the agenda of the California State University Board of Trustees, who would have needed to approve it.
The move pleased and also surprised project critics who have fought to stop it and threatened legal action.
“I'm really glad that they are delaying this so we can investigate,” said art history professor Susan Moulton, former faculty senate chairwoman.
Opponents of the project say it is too costly and burdens students financially. They also say that the SSU administration improperly influenced the April election in which students approved a new $300-a-year fee to pay for it.
Armiñana acknowledged that his decision took into account objections by attorneys with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, who said they might have sought an injunction to stop the project.
“The threat of legal action, real or not, always influences a review of the matter,” he said.
A group of students and faculty had asked the Lawyers Committee to investigate their complaints that the election was flawed.
On Friday, some of those critics suggested that Armiñana's unexpected move suggested he is encountering resistance from CSU trustees.
“There is something going on that nobody knows about and this is an attempt to stall just a little bit before the board of trustees rejects it,” said sophomore Anthony Gallino. He led the student effort against the fee to finance the center.
Armiñana said that's not the case. If student support remains strong, trustees will give the go ahead when when the issue come back to them, he said.
“If the further consultation with the students is positive, the funding would be approved by the trustees,” he said.
Elected student leaders said that they supported the president's action and were confident the center would eventually go forward as planned.
“At most, it's a bit of a time delay,” said senior Alex Boyar, president of the university's Associated Students Inc. organization, which headed the campaign for the fee.
“I think that the main reason he went forward with it was just to make the campus a little more confortable with the idea and have some additional dialogue,” Boyar said.