Sonoma State University president Ruben Armi?na on Tuesday defended his decision to award former Citigroup chief Sanford "Sandy" Weill an honorary degree at this Saturday's commencement ceremony.
Speaking about Weill and his wife, Joan, who will also receive an honorary degree, Armi?na said: "They have been highly commendable for what they have done and this degree is a recognition of that very large and very direct and personal involvement" in arts, healthcare and education.
The Weills, who own an estate near Sonoma and are known nationwide for philanthropy, last year gave SSU its largest single cash gift ever, $12 million, to be used toward the completion of the Green Music Center. Sandy Weill could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
$12 Million Donation To Green Music Center
But the selection of the former Wall Street titan to receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters has sparked anger among some students, faculty and community activists who say he contributed to the financial collapse that the country still is emerging from.
They have spotlighted Weill's prominent role pushing for the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a development that eliminated many barriers between banks, investment firms and insurance companies.
That, say Weill's — and now Armi?na's — critics, ushered in an era of lending practices that led to the housing collapse and foreclosure crisis.
"That opened the gates to all the mayhem we're living with now," said John Bertucci, a spokesman for the Day of Shame Coalition, which sprung up last week in protest.
"Half the students are going to be fighting debts that originated in his company for the rest of their lives," Bertucci said.
Armi?na said the roots of the crisis are more widespread, and noted that it was Congress that passed the law repealing Glass-Steagall and President Bill Clinton who signed it.
"I think there's a lot of blame to go around in terms of what happened," he said. "I think it is highly unfair to single out a single individual in such a monumental event.