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Elite class folly at Sonoma State

The Sept. 29 opening of the Green Music Center (GMC) at Sonoma State University was nothing less than a grand celebration of wealth and privilege. Beaded dresses, tuxedos and political elites blended in a glorious aristocratic coming out.

Built in a time of an economic recession, and including $47 million in public bonds, the $150 million GMC represents one of the most opulent, expensive building projects in the history of Sonoma County. The website for the GMC claims it is "destined to become one of the most sought-after music and arts venues in the world. . . . All three floors of Weill Hall are filled with handcrafted, European steamed beech maple seats, which remain acoustically neutral whether occupied or empty." An A-level seat for the first eight concerts costs $626 and B-level concerts are $459 for the same. A single ticket for the first concert was $81.

One attendee was reported to have remarked, "The bathrooms were nicer than my whole house."

While SSU is suffering tuition increases, declining faculty-student ratios and widespread institutional cuts, the corporate media fell over itself with acclaim for SSU president Ruben Armiñana's "vision," vaunting magniloquently his personal drive. Presidents of state colleges, with the approval of the California State University trustees, have total financial control over their institutions. Therefore, an administrative manager of a public-taxpayer-supported university can cozy up to the regional elites and pro-growth forces to build a Taj Mahal without any democratic process with the stakeholders inside the institution or the public at large. This unilateral control is as much about why 73.4 percent of the SSU faculty in May 2007 voted no confidence in President Armiñana as was the issue of allocation of resources to instruction.

The extravagance of the GMC means SSU faculty, students and staff will continue to suffer lost resources long into the future due to continuing expenses in excess of income, all due to the willingness of regional elites and the CSU trustees to support and accept the megalomanic vision of a single individual with far too much power.

Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and president of Media Freedom Foundation. www.projectcensored.com.Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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