WatchSonoma Watch

Graduation protest to target SSU benefactor Weill



A group of Sonoma State University faculty and students announced Sunday they will protest an honorary degree the school plans to give to a

Sandy Weill talks about his $12 million donation to Sonoma State University to complete the Green Music Center concert hall on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (PD FILE, 2011)

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@pressdemocrat.com.

21 Responses to “Graduation protest to target SSU benefactor Weill”

  1. John Reed says:

    Welcome to Watch Sonoma County. Since you haven’t spent much time here, let me show you the lay of the land. WSC began with the premise that it would be a moderated site where adults using real name entries could have spirited and civil discussions about local politics. It launched with great fanfare in 2010, and for a while I had hope that it would be a lively site for local politics. Unfortunately, many of the same mostly right characters who had made the un-moderated PD Forums site unreadable, due to their vile, hate-filled language and slash-and-burn approach to political discourse migrated over to WSC, using anonymous handles. Initially, many of us pleaded with the moderator to screen out the most offensive comments, but apparently the bar is set so low that the only way to get moderated is to use profanity or issue death threats. The WSC site is now so toxic that the mass audience has left and it has devolved into a dozen wing-nuts and a couple of earnest liberal moonbats. You will not get anything but escalating insults, and you may even expose yourself to physical danger by continuing to post with your real name on this site. That’s the reality, sadly.

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  2. Siren song? says:

    “No system of injustice can be sustained without the consent of the people, whether it’s explicit or tacit.” – Cynthia Boaz, Oct. 15, 2011, Santa Rosa Occupy S.R.

    People are going to be “withdrawing their consent for the status quo.” “Simply acknowledging the lie that the system is fair or just or democratic is a powerful first step in dismantling it”

    “No system is harmed merely by protests…” Withdrawing your consent “makes you a threat.”

    “Use that power wisely and strategically. Don’t descend into the marginalization of your neighbors and friends.” “Harness your anger.”

    Amen, Cynthia Boaz.

    So, does this mean that if someone else besides you says those same things in their own words or actions – as was done respectfully but clearly today at the SSU commencement and Arminina’s gladhanding it with Sandy Weill and his $12million takeover of the Green Center and its programs – that you can’t find it in your heart to agree and support them, instead of going to war with them and trashing them and their motivation?

    C’mon, Cynthia, share the stage.

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  3. Grey Whitmore says:

    Corn Fused is confused about the facts.

    Every story about the role of CitiBank in the banking crisis mentioned time and time again the role of Sandy Weill in creating the monster that was CitiBank and as the man who helped bust Glass-Steagall.

    Though in defense of Weill, Clinton signed that piece of legislation for some unknown and ungodly reason.

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  4. Cynthia Boaz says:

    Western Cluebird,

    Are you being intentionally disingenuous? What I am denying is being a promoter of any person, movement or campaign that advocates or even tolerates any form of violence (including verbal) in the pursuit of social justice. My position on that is firm and on the record.

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  5. Western Cluebird says:

    I must have been mistaken- it was probably a different Cynthia Boaz from SSU that spoke at the occupy proest.


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  6. Cynthia Boaz says:


    That’s a pretty unsophisticated take you have on democracy. Of course votes should be anonymous, it’s fundamental to the right of privacy.

    But if you’re going to participate in the democratic discourse by making unsubstantiated claims about other persons, you have an ethical obligation to be transparent. It is not a coincidence that civics and civility come from the same root.

    And don’t come back with some hyperbole about how the founders were for anonymity, because it’s bogus. They had no way of imagining the Internet and how it would be used in the context of elections and democratic discourse, and given all of their pleas for civility and enlightened citizenship, it’s simply outrageous to pose that they would have defended such a degrading of the democratic process.

    But if you are going to part

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  7. GAJ says:

    Yeah Cynthia, you’re absolutely correct.

    Anonymity and Democracy just don’t mix.

    Can you imagine if VOTING were anonymous?

    The horror!

    Mr. Weill and SSU would have been far better off had his donation been anonymous, that’s for sure.

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  8. Cynthia Boaz says:

    This is what I detest about the ability to be anonymous on the internet. People like “Western Cluebird” can toss out half-truths and innuendos as though they are fact. And he/she can do this with full impunity.

    There are nuggets of reality in what he/she says, but the way he/she characterizes me is laughably detatched from reality. I won’t bother refuting the post line by line, as I am simply exhausted from defending myself from attacks on me from all sides in recent weeks.

    My actual record and positions are out there for anyone to research with a simple Google search, if they are so inclined. Otherwise, I’ll just go on the record as saying that if someone is too cowardly to use their real name in this forum, you can be fairly well certain that they don’t want to be held accountable for what they say. It’s a great way to fire up antipathy and suspicion, but a terrible way to do democracy.

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  9. Skippy says:

    “Most students seem to be totally opposed to this protest, because they are worried that it will take attention away from their graduation day.”

    Then since the faculty has thrown in with the destructive infantile communist mob, the students and their parents should stand up when the protesters do and forcibly eject them from the facility.
    Meeting force with force is the proper way to deal with thugs and mobs.
    Stand up for your family or you abdicate to the animals.

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  10. Reality Check says:


    Your point is well taken. I plead guilty to letting previous examples of student rudeness cause me to jump to an warranted accusation. My apology is humbly tendered.

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  11. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Giving money gives Weill another tax break. Universities and colleges depend on this kind of donation. The students benefit immensely. As for honorary degrees, it’s all kind of stupid in my mind. Why can’t you just say thanks and put up a plaque?

    Being a liberal I hate what Weill has done to the economy that has benefitted him immensely, and hurt me and the rest of the middleclass.

    I also hate that I can’t afford the tickets to go to the Green Center concerts. The more well off in this county have also benefitted from this gift.

    So really I think a plaque is the best solution. Let the students have their graduation ceremony without the hubbub of controversy about this man’s rape of the American economy.

    Maybe he can buy goodwill from the students by giving another $12M for scholarships for middleclass students to help with tuition. That’s where the money is really needed.

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  12. Western Cluebird says:

    Sheppard Bliss and Cynthia Boaz are both big promoters of this group of self righteous occupy anarchists that break windows, attempt to blow up bridges, pick fights with the police and cause destruction and chaos wherever they go.
    This is not a student led movement-it is the same group of malcontents that scream about someone else hoarding wealth while quietly keeping their inflated “professor” salaries under the radar, and encouraging impressionable or uncivilized people to riot and disrupt others in any way they can.
    Not so long ago, they were crowing about teaching “nonviolent resistance” and taking credit for the “Arab spring” which is now threatening to send women back to the stone ages.
    Sheppard Bliss failed in his attempt to ban leaf blowers in Sebastopol and has attached himself to the occupy group in search of relevance, yet I don’t see him manning the propaganda tent in Sebastopol, or “paying their fair share” for the use of the square.
    If fairness in financial dealings is really so important to Sheppard, why should everyone except the occupy group have to pay for the use of the square as well as get liability insurance?
    They have used the square for their ugly tent for so long, that at $350.00 per day, it is well over $40,000 they rightly owe the City of Sebastopol.

    Now that the thuggish element of the movement they helped spawn becomes more obvious and unruly, some are attempting to distance themselves from it.
    Not Mr. Bliss, he embraces it.It makes him feel young, vital and important.
    Ms. Boaz, with all due respect, you helped put this Frankenstein monster in our laps-now you need to do something to stop it from running roughshod over hardworking innocent people that earned the right to graduate in PEACE!

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  13. Reality Check Check says:

    Reality Check,

    It is not students or even SSU faculty who organized this protest, it is local social justice groups. Most students seem to be totally opposed to this protest, because they are worried that it will take attention away from their graduation day. So I think you owe the students an apology or at least a correction for calling them rude. This is NOT their fault.

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  14. RAW says:

    A worthless piece of paper for $12mill? They are protesting that? Let me guess, the unwashed rabble claims it is on priniciple. Morons all. Their degrees? Do you want fries with that?

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  15. John Angus says:

    Thank you Sandy & Joan Weill for your gift. The liberal left (ie Socialist SSU “Teachers” who have been sucking off the states teats until they are “tenured” whose students parents are broke now that their precious one has a PHD in “Human Sexuality”. That and 99 cents will get you an iPhone app. I only wish that you would not have given your $12,000,000 to these campus clowns. Be proud.

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  16. GAJ says:

    “It’s fine that he gave the money, but he has bought this degree,” Bliss said. “That’s a bad precedent.”

    Head in the sand much?

    This goes on all the time.

    But yeah, Weill and his ilk should have spent some time in jail…but didn’t because the politicians who allowed him to “create” new rules would have to be jailed also.

    Here’s a link entitled: “Sandy Weill: the banker who bought Bill Clinton and shattered Glass-Steagall”


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  17. Cynthia Boaz says:

    I am an SSU faculty member, long-time activist and advocate of social and economic justice and equity, and also a political scientist with a special expertise in nonviolent action. I am torn about this action. I sympathize with the message, but I think the tactic is ill-informed. The goal of any nonviolent campaign or movement should be to win the larger audience to your side, but I have serious concerns about the ability of this tactic to do that. If anything, I am fairly sure it will alienate more people than it will recruit to the cause, for one reason: graduating SSU students have nothing to do with Sandy Weill, but it’s their ceremony that will inevitably be disrupted. Yes, one could argue that the ceremony is already disrupted or degraded by the granting of the honorary doctorate, but the nature of public protest is to draw attention to one’s cause. I do not see a way to do this effectively without detracting from the students’ day. I think a much more effective tactic would involve taking the protest to those who the protesters see as the true target– either Weill or the Trustees. Doing this at the students’ graduation implies that they are the target, or at the least, are complicit. I have searched my conscience over and over for the past several days, and I keep coming to the same conclusion. It is frustrating when disagreements over process put me at odds with people whose worldview I share, but I feel a need to be clear on this.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I heard about this protest from the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County and several local Occupy chapters, all of whom are co-organizers. I did not hear about from students or faculty of SSU until several days after being contacted by these community groups. So I’m not 100% sure it is accurate to imply that it’s students and faculty who initiated this action.

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  18. Reality Check says:

    One might be slightly sympathetic to the argument here if the habit of awarding honorary degrees in return for large contributions did not have a long history in California. It’s what we do.

    In any case, the rudeness of students is wearing thin. If they don’t want subsidies from rich people, then stop accepting them. But isn’t that what they’re asking for when they demand a free education?

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  19. Corn Fused says:

    “because of Weill’s role in the worldwide financial crisis, said Shepherd Bliss, a lecturer with the psychology and humanities departments”

    Hello folks – He left Citigroup in 2003 which was YEARS before the sub prime practices even started.

    The faculty who participates should be fired for ignorance.

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  20. Skippy says:

    Hate is the currency of the Left.
    Jealousy expressed as moral outrage is a tactic of children.
    Expect these schmucks to disrupt and ruin the once-in-a-lifetime college grad walk of hundreds of dedicated, hardworking students.
    In a sane world, if the College didn’t post a warning that any protesters would have their college achievements scrubbed away forever and be permanently denied admission to any State school, the parents and polite grads would set upon the ungrateful brats and forcibly eject them from campus.
    Time to meet the disruptive, rude tactics of the New American Left in kind.
    It would be nicer if that fabulous UC Davis cop would come with a backpack full of pepper spray to remind the communist-inspired protesters of their relative insignificance in the grand scheme.

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  21. good one says:

    This couple gave $12 million. I guess that automatically makes them bad guys. If you have money and share,why, you’ll be vilified by those who will benefit from it. Mr and Mrs Weill, thank you for your generosity to Sonoma County. Thank you for sharing your wealth by finishing the Green Center. Thank you for caring.

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