Occupied Sonoma State University: The Green Music Center and how Sanford Weill of Citigroup and a gaggle of one-percenters occupied Sonoma State University
By Danny Weil,
It was a gorgeous day in Rohnert Park. The sun was shining; the air cut across the great valley, crisp and clean. The very taste of celebration was downright palpable. It was a picture perfect day to graduate from Sonoma State University. With parents and loved ones at hand, two thousand three hundred students walked across the stage and received their hard-earned diplomas. Among the ‘graduates’ were Sanford and Joan Weill, proudly accepting their honorary PhDs bestowed upon them by the university’s president/CEO, Ruben Armenian. It was indeed, a day to remember. It was also a day of shame for not only did the Weill’s not work hard to earn their free diplomas, they sullied the ceremony for those who did with their presence.
In this final part of the series on Sonoma State University (SSU) we will look at the Green Music Center’s (GMC) history of funding and the monstrous debt it has created for SSU and its students. We will reveal how the GMC was built by and for the wealthy and the fact that it caters to only those with pockets full of cash, and not to students who attend the university and who are saddled with the obligation to help finance it.
We will take a close historical look as to how such a notable financier and whom many believe in really more pirate than philanthropist, Sandy Weill manages to receive an unsolicited and unearned honorary degree from a publicly financed university instead of a ‘perp walk’ to a privately run penitentiary.
Historically this final segment will also compare and contrast the “gilded Age” in America with what I call the new “gelded age” — an era or epoch where the public commons has for some time now and continues to be, emasculated in favor of privatization and financialization of the public body. The analogies are certainly there and go a long way towards explaining the neo-liberal atrocity we call American political economics and cultural life.
The story of Sandy Weill, how he occupied Sonoma State University, and the role played by Ruben Armiñana can only be understood within the context of Armiñana’s obsession with construction over instruction; that and Sandy Weill’s requirement for both a conjured up legacy and a pristine playground for his prosperous friends. In short, both men think of themselves as gods, or philosopher/kings right out of Plato’s Republic. For them, the underclasses are the mere subjects whose perceptions must be managed with illusions of meritocracy and specious social mobility all encased in a declining and failing economy and culture of corruption and cruelty.
Sandy Weill and the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center (GMC): Make ‘em a deal they can’t refuse
The sordid tale of Sandy Weill, his millions in donations, the ‘free degrees’ that he and his wife were kick-backed for bequeathing largess to the campus, the naming of the lawns and buildings after the conniving bankster and the occupation of Sonoma State University by the one tenth of the one percent can only be understood within the context of Ruben Armiñana’s ‘edifice complex’ — his obsequious and outlandish determination to authorize the construction of more and more buildings no matter the public outcry, no matter the cost to taxpayers and students, no matter the cuts to educational programs, teachers and staff.
The Green Music Center (GMC) at Sonoma State University is a $120 million project according to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the university. The Music Education Hall (one of 4 components) opened its doors in 2008 to the lucky selection of students who were then able to take classes in the two small 60-person classrooms. As we will see, obviously the GMC was not built for students.
The GMC has always been a wasteful and individualized pursuit, one undertaken for personal gain and driven by egocentric eccentrics. It has been part of the attempt to cement the image of SSU as the “Falcon Crest” college that sociology Peter Phillips spoke of in part three (http://ssufacultyforqualityeducation.org/the-financialization-of-education-and-sonoma-state-university-part-iii/). It has also turned out to be another government subsidized project pitched as a self-subsidizing business, when in reality it is funded by taxpayers and students with the sole mission to finance a veritable musical playground for the uber-rich and their wealthy compatriots. The Green Music Center, as is claimed here and elsewhere, is not a ‘public interest’ but a ‘private interest’; it is not for or part of the commonwealth, but for and part of the private wealth.
Here is an announcement I received by e-mail trying to hustle me for the Sonoma State Equestrian
April 29th from 1 pm to 4 pm
At Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center
Tickets sold at the door—$30.00 for guests 21 and over—$25.00 for guests under 21
Wine Tasting, Light Hors d’oeuvres, Silent Auction, Music and a Raffle!
Please RSVP by April 20th (private e-mail received April 4, 2012).
The GMC has its own website where it lists performers, seatings and hawks tickets and begs for donations (http://gmc.sonoma.edu/). Students get fifty percent off the cost of tickets while employees such as faculty and staff get a whopping 20% discount. The Equestrian horse shows, the premier concert performers, the menu that resembles the end of an episode on TV of “Iron Chef” all reek of private wealth and prestige, not of education or any commitment to the commonwealth.
How do students benefit from the construction and existence of the GMC? Well, they flat out do not. As one student stated, there are only two classrooms for use at the GMC and thus students who attend the university can’t really use the GMC for musical practice. Again, this is more proof that the GMC was not built for students but for rich attendees; its focal point is a 1,400-seat concert hall featuring precision engineered, world-class acoustics and was to be modeled on the Tanglewood music venue in Lenox and Stockbridge, Massachusetts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanglewood).
From the start the privatized fantasy of a few was conceived of as a future site for the “high cultural tastes” of the benefits of the American redistribution of wealth – the new oligarchs and their managing class. The GMC also will hire itself out for meetings, events, weddings, and the like (http://www.sonoma.edu/prelude/). In fact, the Prelude, as the GMC restaurant is called, has hired Executive Chef Eric Malvestiti, who boasts of using seasonal locally grown foods to create culinary masterpieces which range from buffets to plated dinners to passed appetizers and fancy finger foods. The GMC is a business, plain and simple, but it is a publicly subsidized business.
Originally the business was intended to be a premier performing arts center funded solely by private donors; it has up until now cost taxpayers at least $45 million in California State University funds and education bond monies for construction projects (see part three on the financialization of the SSU). The other $75 million in funding comes from various private sources including endowments and rich millionaires and billionaires that saw an opportunity, equipped with a compliant college president, to use public monies to assemble a team to put the whole sordid mess in place, and they pounced on it. They used private money to leverage public funds.
The school’s continuing education program also currently contributes public monies it collects to the debt service for the GMC, making payments on $15.6 million in bonds for the project. The debt service or the “vig”, if it can be paid at all, will take decades or generations to pay. The Press Democrat reported this year that: “A combination of public and private financing is funding the remainder of the $120 million project” However, this is all part of the shell game and financial wheeling and dealing that requires a forensic accountant to navigate.
As the Chronicle noted on March 5, 2012: “What they (SSU) didn’t include in their donation was finishing the empty shell already named Schroeder’s Recital Hall in recognition of a $5 million donation from Jean Schulz. That will cost an additional $72 million to finish. The $4 million for the lawn is a matching grant. SSU’s Vice-President for Development pledged to raise the $4 million in new donations within three months (Press Democrat, 3-22-11). Seven months later, another $2 million-match still remained to complete Weill Lawn; the CFO stated the funds needed to be identified by Thanksgiving (CRC minutes, 10-28-11). A few weeks later, the Vice President for Development announced her retirement. Construction has stopped on the lawn, so it appears the donors have yet to be identified. Weill Commons also looks a more ambitious project than a mere $4 million donation—“an amphitheater with a 10,000 seat capacity for large-scale events.” An architect is being selected for the “East Bowl” (CRC minutes, 12-2-11), a new project component reportedly in the $25 million range. Thus, despite a $12 million donation the rechristened GMC, now known as the Weill Project, needs another $36 million for completion” (Chronicle XXII: State of the University, 2012 Part III: Weill Hall.)
The Press Democrat, in late 2010, itemized the rising cost overruns for “the project that keeps on giving”:
“Rising price tag
1997: $15 million
1998: $22 million
1999: $47 million
July 2005: $63.1 million
June 2006: $67.4 million
Sept. 2006: $87.7 million
March 2007: $100 million
2008: $110 million
2010: $120 million” (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20101002/ARTICLES/101009877).
With an apparent lack of transparency, no interest in full disclosure, contempt for students, faculty and staff who raise questions about the current state and future of SSU, and a lack of any democratic procedures no one really knows where the money comes from to pay for Armiñana’s GMC nor where it will come from if it does, in the future. SSU has persisted in a financial shell game, moving the financial pea from one shell to another, to conceal the true escalating costs of the project. The sad part is that the employees implicated in the Three Card Monty are public employees as well.
The fact that the project does not even serve students but is built to attract customers with hefty billfolds and provide an outlet for the otherwise ‘bored” one percent is another demonstration that SSU has become little more than a ‘business’, in this case a mini-investment bank and now a concert hall with tickets for sale online.
What was originally pitched as a $15 million project back in 1997 when the whole idea was conceived, has now galloped forward at lightning speed to mushroom into an incredible $120 million boondoggle with students at the college not even able to eat at the Prelude or think about attending the classical piano concerts where tickets can cost upwards of over $225 dollars.
However, it doesn’t even begin to stop there. Sandy Weill, as the newly appointed Chair of the GMC Board of Advisors, stated that:
“…another $1 million was needed to support the 2012-13 season and $3 million a year thereafter to underwrite the program” (Press Democrat, 2 January 2012).
It seems wherever one finds Sandy one finds debt. The question, of course is where does all this money come from, like the needed $36 million? After all, as Chronicle authors note, the SSU Foundation takes in less than $3 million in total donations and until the Weills arrived, GMC donations had been flat for some time (Chronicle XXII: State of the University, 2012 Part III: Weill Hall, http://ssufacultyforqualityeducation.org/chronicle-xxii-state-of-the-university-2012-part-iii-weill-hall/).
SSU should be required to present to the citizens of Rohnert Park, the Chancellor of the CSU system and students and other stakeholders a forensic accounting of where every dime for the GMC has come from and the sources of projected revenue. In the current fiscal economy of California and the nation as a whole, it is hard to see if and how the monies for this elegant edifice for the rich will be raised without calling on the underwriters on Wall Street and issuing more and more debt in an ongoing Ponzi scheme that sees SSU an indentured servant, shackled to the pillars of debt, along with the college’s students and the faculty and staff who labor to keep the school operating.
Profits from the dormitories, meals and the bookstore are supposed to cover SSU’s ever-increasing debt service but now fewer can get into the school. Anything left over after the ‘vig’ is supposedly paid, the Chronicle authors tell us, is to be used for pre-construction planning and other costs related to development. Millions had already been spent on the Student Center before the bogus student referendum and also previous to the Chancellor’s Office approval of the project. This all lends credence to the claims by students and faculty that the whole election was “fixed”. (http://ssufacultyforqualityeducation.org/continuing-financial-mismanagement-at-ssu%E2%80%942012/).
Yet back in 2010, even after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, spokesperson for the SSU project, Jeff Langley, the artistic director for SSU’s performing arts department was still propagandizing, proclaiming:
“This is going to be the gift that keeps on giving” (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20101002/ARTICLES/101009877).
It has — it has rewarded students, faculty, staff and taxpayers with massive debt. And, it has provided nothing tangible to the local community or the students who have to pay the higher cost of tuition & fees to attend SSU. Working people cannot afford the high ticket prices for the concerts.
The GMC has been a financial gift to Wall Street while constituting a public subsidy to the one percent. The cost overruns and the financialization of the college, which basically turned students into debt paying clients Wall Street. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving and will into perpetuity.
Armiñana has commented in the past that the GMC will be a:
“symbol of excellence in public education in California and for bridging community to campus. It will be “a world-class, superb destination for the musical arts and a gathering place for our educational offerings” (ibid).
There has been little argument that the GMC is, and will be, one of the most superb music halls in the nation. Experts tell us it is exquisite, but this ignores the real issue. The question metaphorically is something like this: at a time when you are facing an economy of no work, no income and eminent home foreclosure, is it responsible to take on debt to build a comfortable Taj Mahal for the rich, when your kids are hungry and facing a bleak future?
From its very conception, critics of the project agreed that the center will be world-class, but they say it has diverted money and attention from SSU’s real mission: academics. Steve Orlick, a professor of environmental studies and planning, who has been a vociferous opponent of Armiñana’s policies and especially the GMC stated back in 2010:
“The whole thing escalated out of control. The campus priorities have been skewed away from the academic program and toward the music building. It’s been a runaway ego thing” (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20101002/ARTICLES/101009877?p=2&tc=pg).
The SSU’s development office spent more than 14 years on raising money for the Green Center. The amount paid in salaries to public officials for these years to design, construct, and service the GMC is astronomical. This, say critics of the financial boondoggle, has shortchanged other areas of the campus and particularly academics, students and faculty needs such as classrooms, salary increases, educational supplies and resources, teacher improvement programs and the like. The fact is that the GMC will never pay for itself, especially as long as the Great Financial Crisis continues.
Armiñana, when approached to explain the rising debt at SSU, tried to deflect any discussion about debt, rising costs and the GMC, and simply retorted:
“This institution would not be here today if not for the fact that we went into debt to build housing” (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120303/ARTICLES/120309821).
Armiñana is making reference to turning SSU from a commuter school into a Falcon Crest with 1.5 million square feet of construction for 8,500 students. He would like the community to believe that he really is a ‘turnaround’ artist that rescued the school from being crossed off the SSU list. This is hardly the truth, with the explosion of Sonoma County for developers in the 1980’s SSU surely would have survived. But assuming Armiñana is right, it is the revenue from the dormitories, or housing at SSU that has been pledged for the System Wide Bonds used for campus construction projects that has mired the university in debt ($300 million and counting, see part one of this series). What Armiñana is really saying is, “I had to sell or mortgage the university to the tune of $300 million to under-writers bond holders in order to save it.”
The GMC’s cost to SSU continually grows rapidly as the years go by (Chronicle XII). In 2008, the financial statement for the university lists the total cost of the project to be $87 million. As of June 30, 2008, the total transferred from the Foundation to SSU for GMC construction was $21.7 million, of which $21 million came from funds invested with the Bank of New York. In 2009, the GMC was $20 million short of completion. In March 2009, the SSU Foundation paid off $13 million in bonds for the project (ibid). But that hardly staunched the bleeding.
Just who is Sandy Weill? The new philanthro-pirates
Sandy Weill and his role at Sonoma State University, though relatively recent, can only be understood through a critical scrutiny of the man and his $12 million bequest to the college.
Sanford “Sandy” Weill (as he likes to be known), is the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Citigroup (you might remember that you gave Citigroup $1.8 trillion in taxpayer bailouts in 2009). For years, Citigroup has been accused and likened to a criminal enterprise and bankster cartel. As CEO, Weill steered Citigroup into the world’s largest ‘financial cartel’ before the whole racketeering enterprise ended in the financial deliquescence in 2008. Ironically this is also the year Sandy Weill resigned from Citigroup, evidently to spend more time with his family. Timing is everything in the gaming racket — that and knowing when to hold them and fold them.
Robert Scheer, former journalist for the Los Angeles Times and now founder and editor for Truthdig.com, has written a very good piece entitled, “For He’s a jolly good scoundrel” on Weill and the looting of the American economy. Scheer quite correctly points out that Weill also was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for an “extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve” ((http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/for_hes_a_jolly_good_swindler_20120418/). He is also on the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Hall and dozens more such boards (http://www.ssualumni.org/s/937/index.aspx?sid=937&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1421&ecid=1421&ciid=3523&crid=0). While has been very busy inventing himself as a philanthropist, very busy indeed.
In an article in the New York Times back in 2005 correctly titled “Laughing all the way from the bank” we learn of “an enormous wooden plaque” in the bank’s headquarters that featured a likeness of Weill with the inscription “The Man Who Shattered Glass-Steagal.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/11/business/11citi.html).
This is the man that Ruben Armiñana, president/CEO for Sonoma State University bequeathed an honorary doctorate.
A Day of Shame for Sandy Weill and Ruben Armiñana
Campus presidents can forward a maximum of two nominees for honorary degrees to the Board of Trustees of the California State University. The CSU Board of Trustees makes the final decision. This what Armiñana did, forward the names of Joan and Sandy Weill. In another fit of lack of full disclosure and phantom public transparency both Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana and Provost Andrew Rogerson were unavailable for comment on the nominees. Obviously the fix was in from the start, which would lend credence to why the public servants of SSU were unavailable for comment and why the Trustees never had to answer for their decision.
Graduating senior, Melanie Sanders of SSU’s Hutchins School, stated what many students, faculty and community members felt about the whole scourge:
“Sandy Weill is greedy. He is a symbol of a nation’s economy becoming increasingly unbalanced and building the accounts of the ultra rich on the backs of the very poor. Half of my school loans are with Citigroup. I once took out $15,000 in student loans. Now $29,365 is due.
I am financially broken by his former company and unlikely to recover. I am compelled to protest this award. I must now call my grandma and explain that I will be protesting at my graduation ceremony. I am personally offended that he will be at my graduation and receiving a degree. SSU offends many by this decision” (http://www.sonomastatestar.com/opinion/big-banker-sanford-weill-s-honorary-degree-1.2869781).
Melanie Sanders was not alone in her scathing criticism of Sandy Weill and the banking empire he forged. Another graduating student, Christopher Bowers, who will receive an M.A. in counseling psychology, commented with righteous bitterness:
“Weill represents a misuse of power, a lack of accountability, and economic abuse of people” (ibid).
The Chronicle noted that the Weills’ donation included $4 million for completion of the concert hall, now named the Joan and Stanford I. Weill Hall, $4 million for landscaping an area now known as the Joan and Stanford I. Weill Commons, and $4 million for additional landscaping in an area now known as the Joan and Stanford I. Weill Lawn (Chronicle XXII: State of the University, 2012 Part III: Weill Hall). Evidently $12 million gets you more than just a personalized license plate and in the case of Weill, more than a job making them.
For the Weill’s, gift giving is not about education, as this segment of the article will reveal. Instead, the Weill’s donation to the GMC is an investment in an enchanted privatized playground for the landed gentry and visiting dignitaries; it is entertainment for the Weill’s and other ‘financial whales’ that have ponyed up millions for the grand boondoggle that will economically haunt SSU, the California State University system and the public it purports to serve well into perpetuity.
It was a sad yet telling day for working people in America when plutocrats and their wives get free honorary college degrees and working people get closed schools, no education and are saddled with debt.
The new benefactors of higher public education range from the very wealthy, who can afford the cost of a gated higher education to those who finance and gain from the wholesale privatization
Public stewardship of the public commons by Ruben Armiñana favored construction over instruction, mini-investment banking over education and debt over solvency
The allegations in this article regarding the public stewardship of SSU by CEO/President Armiñana are not that he is responsible for the decades of “starve the beast” economics that has left the California State University system without the necessary funds it needs to service students, faculty and staff. The argument is that he aided and abetted the gutting of public education at SSU through his reckless and autocratic managerial style, his steadfast belief in running the college as if it were a corporation, his poor decision making, his despotic rule, the corporatization of the college, the close ties to bond holders and underwriters, the ever increasing levels of debt, the loss of upper division class opportunities to for students to graduate due to debt reliance on mortgaged freshman students, the lack of diversity in student body, the inability of the college to serve the local community college due to lack of classes and space to hold them in and his Easter Island antics which have favored construction over instruction at all costs.
Last year, in the Press Democrat, Armiñana is quoted au underpaid and overstressed faculty:
“Our identity is to be California’s public ivy, the closest thing in California to a private institution in a public system, a hallmark of higher education in an intimate setting” (http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110515/ARTICLES/110519643?p=4&tc=pg).
In doing all of the above and more, Armiñana has breached his legal and fiduciary duty to the public and its constituents, while cementing his close ties to the one tenth of the one percent.
According to art history professor Susan Moulton, a former chairwoman of the Academic Senate:
“We are now public ivy without the Ivy League curriculum” (ibid).
SSU president Ruben Armiñana pledged freshman fees and various campus revenues for his catastrophic construction projects at the expense of instructional planning and student and teacher development for decades into the future, veritably mortgaging students to bond holders. Authors of the Chronicle complain throughout their publication that a lack of transparency makes much of the data analysis needed to understand SSU decision-making and its financial footing impossible. They noted:
“In their defense of the Carinalli loans by SSU, (which we discussed in part two of this series, my emphasis), Patricia McNeill and CFO Schlereth wrote of the “transparency” of SSU’s business practices. In business, “transparency” means the “lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.” The word also has another meaning: “seen through or invisible.” The latter seems the better fit at SSU. The administration hides what it chooses, shares what it wants, provides misinformation to harm, exaggerates to create apprehension, and often pretends to be a savior by partially bailing out those adrift due to crises it has induced. How many times have we heard that the CFO was able to “find” funds to calm the tempest de jour?” (Chronicles XIII: SSU 2009 Applause Awards, Release Date: November 13, 2009).
Clearly, Armiñana has pulled up the drawbridge on information dissemination and with palatable fear running throughout the campus only courageous whistleblowers can provide much of the missing information. We can only hope they come forward and soon.
It is always about debt for it is about financialization
In 2008 before the Great Financial Crisis, the authors of the Chronicle reported:
“Debt for the GMC has been spread all over campus and out into the wider community. These debts must be paid now, while construction continues and without the growth FTEs. Even the CFO admits, “this [reduction in growth] could have a considerable impact related to the GMC” (PBAC minutes). The CFO’s Code of Ethics Statement for financial management concludes with what might be seen as his guiding principles: “Achieve responsible use of and control over all University assets and resources employed.” We question if he has achieved either. Surely, the debt entered into here without consultation (and the $21 million in needed contributions is a debt as well) is highly irresponsible. One individual should not have such control without other guiding principles that recognize the interests, priorities, and rights of others.
The President and CFO find themselves with a collapsing pyramid. They bet on increased enrollment for growth funding and got growth without the funding; they invested in housing and real estate as that market collapsed; they waited for big donors while Green Music Center (GMC) costs soared. By 2008-2009 SSU was to reach “capacity,” with the GMC opening and generating at least 797 FTEs. A&F estimated the construction at just over $65 million, $4,740,000 of which came via System Wide Revenue Bonds (SRB) to be repaid by future events. Costs included an estimated $3,686,360 in financial costs (GMC Powerpoint 3- 06). With costs now estimated at $110 million and a need for donations of $21 million to complete the project (GMC webpage), it is abundantly clear that the end is not in sight. The President and CFO have mortgaged SSU’s future and should be asked now to disclose just how much debt the campus is under and how they intend to pay it back (Chronicle IX, Debt 101, April 3, 2008).
This is why Armiñana reclassified his job description and passed the tin can around to billionaires to staunch the financial hemorrhaging associated with the fiasco. On the New Year’s evening opening of the Green Music Center to usher in the new year of 2012, Armiñana was swift to pass around the begging bowl again, even going so far as to threaten those millionaires that might not have come up the millions needed for the new gilded gentry that has occupied Sonoma State: “We know who you are and we know where you live,” warned President/CEO Armiñana (http://ssufacultyforqualityeducation.org/continuing-financial-mismanagement-at-ssu%E2%80%942012/).
As early as 2009, authors of the Chronicle wrote: “Much has been written about the Green Music Center. It has burdened SSU for a decade and will continue to do so until most of us are long gone. While California is clearly in a sorry financial state, the GMC is at the center of SSU’s monetary woes. The administration funnels every spare penny and many needed dollars into this sinkhole that just keeps growing. University managers had worked $2 million in hours on the GMC as of July 2007 (SF Chronicle 7 July 2007) and probably an additional $2 million as of today. In FY 06-07 over $500,000 in State Lottery funds paid wages on a GMC still in the planning stages. Well over $1 million a year move from campus auxiliaries to GMC debt service. In some years Foundation payments for debt service exceed those for student scholarships by one-third. And while other areas, particularly teaching, have suffered hiring freezes for years, Development continues to hire more managers and employ outside agents in hopes of attracting donors. The Foundation now charges a 5% “reinvestment fee” on new donations to fund their operations. As this is more than a year’s return, the gift’s value actually depreciates in the first year” (Chronicle XII: A Closer Look at the SSU Foundation, September 30, 2009).
Now, in Chronicle XXII the authors note that the endowment donations, that Armiñana has been out begging for:
“…. do not include the unfinished Schroder’s Recital Hall that received $5 million in donations from Jean Schulz, as well as many other areas of the GMC, which brings up the estimation that the Weill Project, formerly the GMC, will take another $38 million to complete.”
Sadly, Weill Hall, Commons, and Lawn have transformed the GMC’s promise of the a “profoundly democratic institution, one that would bring students, faculty, and the community into a town hall environment with superb acoustics and aesthetics hosting music and ideas for a new age” (Ochoa in Press Democrat, 6-19-10) into a pay-to-play club for the truly privileged less than 1%. Even the new signage places local philanthropists in a visually secondary role. The more than 1800 individual contributors to this project should not be forgotten so easily” (Chronicle XXII: State of the University, March 19, 2012).
Then there is the issue of the local Sonoma county music lovers and philanthro-pirates shoved out of the way by Weill’s occupation if the Green Music Center. The Chronicle stated that they had numerous and good authorities that report “the unthinkable has happened” (ibid): evidently the original benefactors, the Greens are no longer involved with the Green Music Center. The SSU Foundation turned down or returned their recent donations. The Chronicle also reports that the Greens are no longer represented on the advisory board leading the authors to query: “Has SSU dumped the millionaires for a billionaire?” (ibid).
Chronicle XXII is very concise when it comes to both analysis and the questions that need to be asked if Sonoma State University is to survive. The calamitous debt burden that Armiñana has been able to stack up while abandoning his public fiduciary relationship is just cause for Armiñana to be relieved of his duty. Perhaps the Weill’s will have a place for him.
The problem, once again, is there is no public disclosure; there is no public transparency, simply hidden agendas and powerful forces. The liberal institutions have been crushed; they no longer perform their jobs for the public. Instead they look to compete with privatized forces and partner with them whenever possible. Add to this any cursory glimpse at the decrepit media coverage of Sonoma State University, and it demonstrates that only construction and entertainment is celebrated in the fondling commercial press; the local corporate media seldom question the public, students, parents or the university instructors about education. They, like the publicly paid administrators at Sonoma State University have abdicated their ethical and moral responsibility to the public for access and supplicant relationships with the hustlers — the financial rich and powerful.
Economic update: American industrial output continues to fall, financialization rises and a surplus population of students and citizens see a horizon of debt, economic despair, decreasing employment opportunities and social disfigurement
In the first three parts of this series on Sonoma State University, I described how its current president/CEO, Ruben Armiñana, created a corporate nightmare for students, faculty, classified workers, potential transfer students from community colleges, students looking to gain admission into the college and those seeking the classes they need to graduate.
The series has also looked at the insipid financialization of SSU and the CSU system which for years now has used the public commons, in this case the public state university systems and particular campuses, to advance the corporatization of its governing structure with an eye to paving a new financial and political infrastructure for the wholesale privatization of higher education.
As an aside, the same claims can be made for K-12 education where privatization is galloping forward at heady speeds, public schools close faster than mom and pop businesses, and the school to prison pipeline is an all too familiar refrain to low-income people of color.
The US public educational system, from K-higher education is basically on the private auction block all over the US with its current workers mere commodities not to be negotiated with, but to be negotiated away in the interest of opening up the burgeoning $600 billion dollar public educational sector to the wet-lipped, hand rubbing capitalists who seek to deposit their surplus capital into profitable financial ventures.
The students, either living or those yet to be born, are mere revenue sources, themselves commodities that have already been sold and mortgaged to the bondholders. For the autocratic administrators and administrative staff that work to run the public commons as a private business for high salaries and perks, students, teachers and staff are either simply the cost of doing business, pesky roadblocks to autocratic decision making or, in the case of students, the source of future revenues. The whole ‘enterprise’ is simply that: a dehumanizing and demeaning privately run and publicly subsidized racket.
In the May 2012 edition of the economic journal Monthly Review, in an article entitled, “The Endless Crisis”, authors John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney about the perils of our financial times and the seemingly endless crisis. Through compelling and easy to read historical graphs, the authors show that:
1. The average annual real economic growth rates for the EU, Japan and US have tumbled in the last fifty years to un-imaginable lows;
2. Industrial production in the last seventy years in the US has fallen to dramatic lows;
3. The share of GDP going to finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) is now over 65% and steadily rising;
4. The growth rate of real investment in manufacture structures is has fallen to below zero in sixty years;
5. Finally, the percentage of the means of production (manufacturing) that is being utilized is now down to about 75% (http://monthlyreview.org/2012/05/01/the-endless-crisis).
What does this all mean? Simple: Americans are producing little in the way of goods or services therefore there is little employment; domestic industrial production is not only at record lows but is getting worse as more and more production is outsourced while investment in manufacturing is almost non-existent. As industrial production falls, investments shift to the financial sector, a trend we’ve seen for decades now. With no work and thus no income, Americans become more and more shackled to debt, lose their homes and jobs. Prospects for any economic future that does not simply redistribute society’s wealth and benefit the rich look dim if the material conditions on the ground do not change.
The new ‘Gelded’ Age
In his classic book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn devotes an entire chapter to the industrial “Robber barons” (A People’s History of the United States, Zinn, H. (1999) Harper/Perennial, NY: New York). These robber barons arose during what Mark Twain labeled, “The Gilded Age” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gilded_Age:_A_Tale_of_Today).
During that time, as now after the civil rights movement, the gains made by Blacks during Reconstruction that followed the civil war were vigorously attacked; we saw the rise of Jim Crow in the Gilded Age just as now we see the rise of the New Jim Crow now in the age of incarceration (http://www.newjimcrow.com/). Millionaires arose over night back in the late 1900’s and attacks against labor were brutal. We see the same thing now with fortunes like those that Facebook amassed through financialization for a few and the victory of capital over labor in Wisconsin and across the nation.
Yet as Zinn notes, control in the modern emerging industrial age that marked the Gilded Age had to be accomplished by more than the use of the truncheon. Modern control had to be assured so those who might otherwise rebel would see the nonsense of rebellion and would accept both the subjective and objective oppression that swaddled their lives. As Zinn also points out, the popular propaganda in the form of literature at the time was the ideology of individualism, belief in the superiority of the rich and famous, an ethic of competition and covetousness and the belief in hierarchy as the only way of conceiving of living.
So it was that the ‘philanthro-pirates’ of the Gilded Age developed an almost obsessive interest in anything education. Textbooks were banned at the time, just as they are now. In the late 19th century loyalty oaths for teachers were assembled and compelled. The loyalty now is to the corporation and this is assured through panoptic surveillance and fear.
Russell Conwell, a graduate of Yale Law School and a minister and author traveled the US giving speeches on the rage of the day, “individualism” and the assumption underlying the American Dream that anyone can get rich if they just work hard enough. He would go on to help found Temple University.
John D. Rockefeller was a donor to all sorts of colleges among them the University of Chicago.
The millionaire railroad tycoon, Samuel Huntington gave money to the Hampton Institute and the Tuskegee Institute, both Black colleges.
John Hopkins University was founded by a millionaire merchant.
Andrew Carnegie gave money to libraries.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ezra Cornell, James Duke and Leland Stanford all created universities in their own names.
These were to be centers for the rich. Corridors of power for networking and deal making so imbedded in American capitalist life. They were to be part of the cultural hegemony of capitalism and served their cause well at this time.
The rise of basic public education, as Zinn uncovers in his book, was a necessity for the developing industrial age for workers had to be taught authority, regimentation, to be literate enough to keep books for factories, and more than anything else to be taught to accept economic, social, sexual and racial hegemony and the narrative of authority to accompany it. It would be necessary, in other words, to wedge this ideology of hierarchy into the average citizens’ mind by using the schools as vehicles at all levels.
William Bagley’s book, Classroom Management, published in 1907 which was widely used as a teacher-training manual. It was so highly praised at the time it actually went through thirty printed editions. The book stated the morbid thinking of many so-called educators at the time:
“One who studies educational theory aright can see in the mechanical routine of the classroom the educative forces that are slowly transforming the child from a little savage into a creature of law and order, fit for the life of civilized society” (http://www.bookrags.com/biography/william-chandler-bagley).
Thus America’s educational system, especially its higher educational system, was created not through the beneficence of a gaggle of rich, but was the outright institutional growth of capitalism and the systems stewards at the time as a way of ideologically excusing and promoting inequality, exploitation, racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of discrimination. This is why too, Social Darwinism was so popular during the Gilded Age (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/spencer-darwin.asp).
The philanthro-pirates so lovingly associated with the era of the late Gilded Age were really ruthless businessmen whose support for the virtues of capitalism, racism, sexism and attacks on working people is legendary. These men were American hustlers and power and greed drove their agendas, not charity and beneficence ((http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/gildedage.html).
The fact that some of the super rich of their day thought to give back some of the swag they stole through exploitation is owed more to the material conditions of the time within which they lived and the ideological necessity of ‘cleansing’ and institutionalizing reverence for authority, than it is to any charitable, empathic urgings by the rich. This was a time of tramps and millionaires and one was raised to accept the hierarchical social order, much as they still are today.
In fact, today it is absurdly popular among such people as Sandy Weill or Bill Gates to claim they are the inheritors of a new “Gilded Age” and that they too are really philanthropists and therefore not subject to confiscatory income taxes or unnecessarily criticized for their exorbitant wealth in face of ineffable poverty. These new financial tycoons actually see themselves as leaders of a world where their individual successes coupled with their philanthropy have now made the government less important than it once was and unleashed a new chimera of hand to hand combat they like to call libertarianism.
This is the new “pull ‘em up by your boot straps” thinking that dominates our age as it did long ago. We saw this during the 1990’s when business icons like Jack Welch were hoisted on the shoulders of workers and heralded for creating and accumulating greater profits for their companies when it was the uncompensated increase in productivity by workers, which was really responsible for the so-called success of these enterprises. While worker’s wages flat lined for more than three decades, adjusted for inflation, the Captains of industry mainlined tremendous profits.
The shift to financialization was accompanied by an ideological sales marketing job intent on convincing the underpaid American work force that the new managerial elite, the CEO’s and CFO’s who saw their bonuses and compensation rise to more than 500 to 1 in terms of CEO to worker, were responsible for economic success not the American workforce. And they bought it, if not consciously then unconsciously all the while watching their standards of living fall while their debt levels rose.
Sandy Weill, for example, told a reporter for the New York Times five years ago:
“People can look at the last 25 years and say this is an incredibly unique period of time. We didn’t rely on somebody else to build what we built, and we shouldn’t rely on somebody else to provide all the services our society needs” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/business/15gilded.html?pagewanted=all ).
This is the same rhetorical appeal to the ethics of rugged individualism so prominent during the late 19th and early 20th century. Capitalism is built on an this ethic of individualism, the acceptance of inequality as personal failure, a plutocracy favoring autocracy as opposed to participation in power or democracy, and the tight embracement of unequal opportunity and privilege as the road to social mobility for a few and downward mobility for the many.
New York Times journalist, Louis Uchitelle, wrote a good piece on the new age titans or financial robber barons of our era in July of 2007, before Weill resigned from Citigroup. Speaking of the rising inequality and the growing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, Uchitelle was quick to point out that in the past Gilded Age:
“Such concentration at the very top occurred in 1915 and 1916, as the Gilded Age was ending, and again briefly in the late 1920s, before the stock market crash. Now it is back, and Mr. Weill is prominent among the new titans. His net worth exceeds $1 billion, not counting the $500 million he says he has already given away, in the open-handed style of Andrew Carnegie and the other great philanthropists of the earlier age.
Those earlier barons disappeared by the 1920s and, constrained by the Depression and by the greater government oversight and high income tax rates that followed, no one really took their place. Then, starting in the late 1970s, as the constraints receded, new tycoons gradually emerged, and now their concentrated wealth has made the early years of the 21st century truly another Gilded Age” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/business/15gilded.html?pagewanted=all).
Perhaps. Or maybe our time can best be seen as a new ‘gelded age’; an historical epoch where public services, the public commons and the social safety net are being emasculated in favor of privatization. A stage of history where the gains fought for and won by our forefathers and mothers, advances in labor rights, civil rights, women’s rights, rights for the disabled and aged are slowly being castrated from the American material and ideological landscape.
Weill, of course, likes to envision himself as one of the new age philanthropists in the spitting image of the old robber barons who he adores. In the NY Times article of 2007 he boasts without any iota of self-reflection that:
“I once thought how lucky the Carnegies and the Rockefellers were because they made their money before there was an income tax. I felt that everything of any great consequence was really all made in the past. That turned out not to be true and it is not true today” (ibid).
The new ‘gelded age’ financial tycoons, however, cannot be compared to the likes of a Carnegie or Rockefeller — men who actually participated in the creation of tangible material goods, albeit through the exploitation of human labor and environmental resources. Steel was created and used for production, for example. Oil and railroads were manufactured and used for transportation. What has Sandy Weill created? What have any of the financial titans who tell us how charitable they are really created other than a casino economy shattered with foreclosures, debt, unemployment, crass inequality through privileged political machinations, crony capitalism, corrupt democracy and the dismantling of any gains made for society or its citizens during the New Deal?
The billionaires of today are not productive citizens that create anything useful for the human race. In fact, the opposite is actually true. They create financial ruin for the many in favor of personal gain for the few. They oppose raising income taxes on their fortunes. In fact, they hate any income taxes in general and believe that the rich deserve to be rich (Social Darwinism) while the poor are destitute due to their lack of Calvinist responsibility. These new uber-rich, like Weill, believe that selfishness truly is a virtue and their gift giving and charitable donations are more simply testimony to their need for psychic self-partiality more than it is to any sense of altruism or human concern.
Philanthropy is based on altruism and Weill and the new financial robber barons like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many, many others find a psychic outlet in charitable giving. It is a form of personal and social cleansing and provides satisfaction through the creation of a conduit for their tremendous egos. How else can one explain the Weill’s need to name every portion of the Green Music Center after themselves, from the well-manicured lawns to the commons? The whole thing smacks of branding.
Creating the material conditions for the privatization of the educational means of production
Ruben Armiñana has used his position as a publicly paid administrator to hire and enshrine high paid administrators with corporate values and who have no compunction about carrying out the decimation of the public commons in the name of ‘corporate progress’. Their job has been for years now to chase tuition dollars and grants from government and develop the phony public-private partnerships we hear so much about.
Corporatization has meant that the mission of SSU and indeed many public higher educational institutions at all levels have had to organize themselves for one goal: business and revenues. The fact that most students at the SSU graduating ceremony (let alone their parents) knew nothing about Sandy Weil is more evidence that developing critical thinking citizens has nothing to do with the mission of Sonoma State University.
Falcon Crest universities, like Sonoma State University, must be competitive in recruiting students who may become future wealthy alumni to fund university growth and more and more buildings and projects. This means they need more revenues and with government austerity, the material conditions of public education are now falling into the hands of private interests.
The government is basically been taken over by the forces of neo-liberalism, its assets stripped and its essential services defunded. This means selling the limited seats and admission to public colleges and universities on the open global market. For what Armiñana, in his actions of privatizing and fianancializing SSU has done, is created the material conditions for the wholesale privatization, financialization and private ownership of the educational means of production through contracting out, debt and restricting admissions.
At the same time, Armiñana has created an enclave for music aficionados, usually from the upper classes, that could salvage Sonoma State and allow it to make payments on its steep debt. With the construction of the Green Music Center and the integration of the Santa Rosa Symphony and other musical arbitrages pulled off by the shot-caller, Weill, the Green Music Center along with the falcon crest setting of Sonoma wine country may just be the trappings that are needed to outsource the college, sell admission to high income students from all over the world and pay interest on the debt.
Certainly it can’t be argued that the Green Music Center is for working class students who attend Sonoma State University. As a high quality, yet costly, music center it could be the lighthouse that brings the foreign ships bearing out of state tuition revenue to Sonoma State University’s port.
There’s more evidence, to lengthy to present here, of the increasing reliance by publicly funded institutions on out of country residents who pay hefty admission fees to attend colleges with reputations and prestige. Armiñana is building a Disneyland for the rising global ruling class and their children.
The role of president/CEO Armiñana and those of his ilk is to create centers for the rich, not educational opportunities for the working class. They do their jobs very well, which is why we pay them exorbitant fees and why they are the darlings of the Wall Street financiers who assure their positions.
The state of affairs at Sonoma State University, as in the United States verges on both economic and political insanity. Throughout the previous great empires of Britain, Holland, Spain, Portugal, and much of the southern periphery of the Euro-zone, like Greek and Italy, capitalist accumulation and its consequences are coming home to roost with dire consequences both economically and politically.
Education as a human right is being struggled for in the streets of Quebec, the cities of Mexico, England, Spain, Chile, Honduras (set to privatize their educational system) the United States and indeed everywhere throughout the world. Student Unions are being formed and alliances with unions, community groups, activists, educators, teachers, progressive politicians, workers and just average working people in general are being forged.
The struggle is for education as a human right not just for K-12 but also for life. This means assuring that the public commons, of which public education is a part, is open to citizens 24/7 so that they may work to develop their potential as individuals and human beings.
Now, however the mismanagement, or let us say the financialization of education by the capitalist system has created conditions whereby most all of the students cannot get an education without going into debt peonage for life and even then, access is limited by decades of rancid neo-liberal policies that have hardly been combated by a vigorous union and citizen movement.
At this juncture, with school closings, public colleges and universities admission windows locked, access for US residents minimized in favor of foreign students who pay higher tuition and fees, the growth of criminal for-profit colleges, the creation of access toll booths set up to privatize public institutions from within and other, sundry schemes intent on turning education over to Wall Street and the financiers, education has been reduced to little more than a commodity packaged in the form of a diploma. It has been a long ride to arrive at this juncture of history but here we are. Something is wrong with the ethics and morality of capitalism and this of course translates into the awful public policy and crass commercial spectacle we see today.
Instead of valuing solidarity, capitalism is a system that values individualism and atomization. Instead of embracing an ethic that appreciates, not simply tolerates, diversity capitalism detests diversity in favor of standardization. It is racist, sexist, and homophobic and uses the devices of divide and conquer on social and economic levels to destroy solidarity and an appreciation for diversity. Instead of understanding that an ethic of equity in opportunity is essential in allow each person to develop their potential, capitalism promotes the propaganda of a mythical equal playing field in favor of yawning inequality and downward mobility. Instead of seeing that participation in power is essential for democracy, capitalism seeks closed door decision making, secret parliaments, non-disclosure and blacked out transparency.
America, according to author and philosopher Morris Berman, in his new book, “Why America Failed” (2012), is a “hustler society”. It always has been. Ruben Armiñana and Sandy Weill are just two examples of this. Now, however, America is even more dangerous as its own hyperbolic individualist narcissm and hubris threatens to translate into increased inverted totalitarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_totalitarianism).
Reality doesn’t have to be like this. Teachers at Sonoma State University have pledged to strike if their salary and benefit and working condition demands as faculty are not met. This is true among all the 23 CSU campuses. Students have pledged to form a union throughout the state of California like that in Quebec, Chile or Mexico and are working assiduously to do just that.
It is time for faculty at SSU to begin to make known, either through whistle blowing activities or through their faculty organizations that Ruben Armiñana must leave Sonoma State University. He has breached his public fiduciary responsibility to all public constituents through imprudent public stewardship, putting the college in danger of bankruptcy.
It is also important to note that even with the departure of Armiñana which cannot happen too soon, the systemic rot he has left within the system is a time bomb simply waiting to go off. If Sonoma State University is to survive and its faculty to be a voice in shared decision making over the future of the college, then much more than demonstrations and kicking out a current misguided and incompetent public servant is going to be needed. What is necessary is mass mobilization that must first occur at the college itself amongst all constituencies and then spread outside to the surrounding community.
I wish to once again thank the courageous and remarkably thorough authors of the Chronicle. They have done a great service to faculty, staff, students and the community. They have provided me a great deal of facts and understanding which has enabled me to write this lengthy four-part article.
I hope this article, though perhaps tedious in an age of post-literacy and acronym driven sound bites was helpful to those who have tried to understand how capitalism, economics, privatization, financialization, and corporatization has remade the American landscape and in this case the once grand institutions of higher education.
All of education, the entire $600 billion dollar enterprise, is now on the auctioning block and there will surely be more Ruben Armiñana’s posing in the future as public stewards when their real agenda is clearly laced to privatization and self partiality. The only question now is will the American people allow the selling of American education to Wall Street with the help of publicly paid servants, or will they continue to be oblivious to the Sandy Weill’s and the Ruben Armiñana’s, thus allowing for more wholesale plunder of the public commons?