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Calls for unity as SSU faculty kick off year

Sonoma State University faculty on Monday launched the new academic year in far grander surroundings than on previous such occasions -- from inside the most controversial building in the university's history.

SSU's annual convocation -- to which administrators and student and staff leaders also are invited to speak -- was held at the $120 million Green Music Center, a locus of furious campus battles over spending priorities in a budget-strapped age.

Those tensions were visible in previous convocations. In her 2010 speech, art historian Susan Moulton, then the faculty chairwoman, said: "How much have we really spent on this enterprise? How does it look to the outside world?"

But the tenor of this year's event leaned far more toward collaboration than confrontation. Speakers called for unity in the face of financial and other challenges, and urged a campaign to foster support for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax increase initiative.

"We are heading into a year guaranteed to challenge very nearly everything about who we think we are, as an institution, what our job is, and what we need to do to get that job done," said the new SSU faculty chairwoman, anthropology Professor Margaret Purser, who pushed for the convocation to be held at the hall.

The gathering of about 175 people was "much, much, much more focused on collective problem-solving than we were on disputes that were internal," she later said.

The university's allocation from the California State University system this year is $38.9 million, down from $46 million last year and $56 million in 2010. Should Brown's initiative fail, CSU plans $250 million in cuts, resulting in a $5.75 million hit to SSU.

"Prop. 30 holds the future of the CSU system in the balance," said Karen Paniagua, president of Associated Students, the student government body.

"The students will do their part. This is not going to be 'register a couple of hundred people and put up some fliers,' " she said.

SSU President Ruben Armi?na delivered the day's most sober speech, noting the university's budget allocation from CSU has been cut 30 percent since 2008 and the campus is still seeking $1.2 million more in cuts.

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