|GMC – beautiful, but still unnecessary
With the opening of the Green Music Center, Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana is crowing about what a visionary he is and trumpeting the story of how he doggedly pursued a vision through thick and thin, against all odds, and in the face of the naysayers who claimed it couldn't be done – the latter presumably including most of the Sonoma State University faculty.
We never said it couldn't be done. We said it shouldn’t be done. And that's a big difference. When you're the president of a university, and you have lots of time, energy, and money – other people's, of course – certainly you can wait 15 years and $145 million to complete a project that was supposed to be done in two years at $22 million. (Actually it's not complete even yet – he still needs another $10 million, ironically the same amount as the Greens' original gift, which was supposed to buy a modest little choral hall.)
Well, the Green Music Center is great for music lovers – of which I count myself as one. But I wear other hats as well, and as a faculty member I have to worry about the extreme negative impact this project has had (and will continue to have) on the financial health of the institution.
This project was strongly opposed by the SSU faculty. Several years ago, in fact, the faculty voted overwhelmingly (almost 3 to 1) no confidence in Armiñana, largely for his insistence on forging ahead with this project despite intense opposition from the faculty. One can hardly be acclaimed a "leader" when so few are following.
Sure, it is nice to have one of the world's three greatest concert halls right here on our campus. And it's done now, so we might as well enjoy it – particularly because we've had to give up so much to have it. But all the reasons we opposed it over a decade-and-a-half are still valid:
• It is way too grandiose a project for this campus. Education is our mission, not providing a home for the Santa Rosa Symphony (even if the president's wife is its board chair).
• If we had been asked 15 years ago (which we were not) how we should spend $155 million on some project, we surely would have put a new world-class performance hall far down on the list. We have demonstrable needs for increased offerings in engineering, nursing, foreign languages, psychology, liberal studies and business management, among others. We had no pent-up demand for more performing arts.
• The project has had a serious negative impact on the finances of the university, particularly in light of steeply declining state support over the past decade. And it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future: no performance hall makes money; they all must be subsidized.
The Rolls Royce is a helluva car, but if you're on an academic budget, you might have to settle for driving a Dodge Dart.
Copeland Creek, which divides the campus into the northern part where the GMC is located and the southern part where the main business of the campus – education – is conducted, has become a bright and shining line between the 1 Percent and the 99 Percent. On the north side, there is no expense too extravagant, from $1,400 chairs to 300-year-old imported olive trees in the courtyard. On the south side, my department budget is so strained we can't even afford to buy pens.
Finally, there is the infamous Sanford Weill, after whom the recital hall is named: the former CEO of Citibank and the man almost single-handedly responsible for the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which in turn was one of the main causes of the financial meltdown of 2008.
In fact, Time magazine named him as one of the 25 people most to blame for the Great Recession.
Much of the campus community was outraged last May when this man was awarded an honorary doctorate at Commencement – an honor he essentially "bought" with his donation of $12 million from his ill-gotten wealth. Now, well into his 80's, he has decided to give up his rapacious self-serving ways and become a "philanthropist."
Rick Luttmann, PhD, is a Professor of Mathematics at Sonoma State University.