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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.

He said that even should Proposition 30 pass, CSU would still be getting $557 million less than it was in 2007; for SSU that figure would be $12.8 million less than in 2007.

"This is unsustainable," he said. Without more funding, he said, "the university would have to be reconstructed in radical ways, with the closing of programs and activities and a reformulation of the traditional ways of providing instruction."

Challenges also include competition from for-profit and free higher online education, taking place as CSU tuition rises and with curriculums out of step with employers' needs, said Provost Andrew Rogerson.

"We can only effect change in the academy if we work together while banishing the temptation to resist change," he said.

Some of the morning's more collegial tones were undoubtedly due to the July 31 agreement between the CSU and its faculty association on a new contract for the union's about 21,000 members. The tentative agreement was reached after two years of negotiations.

"Now that we have a tentative agreement, we once again reach out to the golden shores and here on this campus to work together," said political science Professor Andy Merrifield, chairman of the union's bargaining team.

That the convocation took place in the $87 million Joan and Sanford Weill Hall did not go unremarked.

In her speech, Marybeth Hull, the mathematics and statistics department's administrative coordinator, made reference to the hall's "notorious expensive chairs" -- the 1,400 chairs cost $1.2 million -- and said, "Here I am in the Green Center, on the stage of Weill Hall, in my $6.99 dress from the Goodwill."

But she said, "This is truly a bucket list moment."

Rogerson said it would be a site for fruitful collaborations that would establish "tangible links between this amazing Weill Hall here at the Green Music Center and academia."

Purser, in a lyrical speech, summoned images of people talking and making music together on Southern front porches and said underlying such gatherings was "the hard work" of making sense of change and managing it.

That brand of togetherness is what the university needs now, she said. And, she said, "This is not a half-bad-looking front porch."

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.