A group of Sonoma State University faculty and students announced Sunday they will protest an honorary degree the school plans to give to a major donor to the Green Music Center at Saturday's graduation ceremony.
Sanford "Sandy" Weill, a former chief executive of Citigroup, and his wife, Joan, last year donated $12 million the school needed to finish the concert hall.
However a coalition of students, faculty and local Occupy activists object to bestowing the honorary degree because of Weill's role in the worldwide financial crisis, said Shepherd Bliss, a lecturer with the psychology and humanities departments. They will participate in an unspecified public demonstration during the ceremony dubbed, "Day of Shame on Sonoma State University."
"We've found no evidence that he has any remorse for the many victims that he and Citibank have been responsible for foreclosing on," Bliss said.
The Weills are renowned philanthropists from New York who bought a home in Sonoma County.
Weill is credited with building Citigroup into the world's largest bank. After Weill left Citigroup in 2003, the subprime mortgage crisis deflated its shares from $55 in 2007 to $1 in early 2009. Citigroup received a $45 billion federal bailout.
Weill went from being hailed by Fortune magazine in 2001 in its "10 Most Admired Companies" list to being on Time Magazine's list of "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis." The magazine also listed former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and "American consumers" among those to blame.
A committee of faculty and students recommended Weill for the degree, said Susan Kashack, SSU's associate vice president. The California State University chancellor approved it.
"They donated money for something that is going to make a huge difference to the university, to the county, to Northern California," Kashack said.
The Weills also have donated their time to help the center open, Kashack said. Sanford Weill chairs the center's board of advisers. Joan Weill chairs a benefits committee.
"She's helped bring new donors to us that the university had never heard from before," Kashack said.
The donation, while generous, doesn't absolve Weill of responsibility for the crisis, Bliss said.
Protesters are still planning what they will do. They are looking at other models, such as the 1969 Brown University graduation when about three-quarters of the audience turned their backs on Henry Kissinger, who was then special assistant to President Richard Nixon.
"It's fine that he gave the money, but he has bought this degree," Bliss said. "That's a bad precedent."
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson
Resources To Help
North Bay Suicide Prevention 24-hour hotline: 855-587-6373
NAMI Sonoma County warmline: 707-527-6655
Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services: 707-576-8181
For information on Sonoma County support groups, call 707-527-6655 or go to namisonomacounty.org