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Some SSU students, faculty push for investigation into student center vote

Friday, May 6th, 2011 | Posted by

BY JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A dispute over whether a Sonoma State University student election was conducted improperly gained momentum Thursday, with a mathematics professor introducing a resolution before the faculty senate calling for an investigation.

Architect's rendering of new student center at Sonoma State University.

Sharon Cabaniss also said the election results should be suspended until an investigation is done. The resolution will be voted on May 19 by the university’s Academic Senate.

Students voted in the April election to pay $150 per semester to help build a $65 million student center. The fee, which will be assessed on students for 30 years beginning in the fall of 2012, was approved on a 59 to 41 percent vote by students. About 37 percent of students voted.

“There were things that happened during that election that were not appropriate,” Cabaniss said. She said someone not involved with SSU should conduct the investigation because “I don’t think that anyone on campus” can.

Most of the allegations of misconduct were raised by students who campaigned against the fee.

“This is part of the checks and balances we have on campus,” Anthony Gallino, a freshman who led the “No” campaign, told the Academic Senate Thursday.

Gallino and faculty supporters of the resolution said that the election was weighted in favor of those favoring the student center fee, noting:

— That well before the election, SSU auxiliary organizations directed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the Student Center project, tilting the field in its favor.

Tax records show, for example, that Sonoma State Enterprises, which operates retail and dining services, gave at least $550,000 to the university for “costs associated with construction of a Student Center.”

— That during the campaign, other than the Associated Students Inc., the auxiliary organizations gave money only to the “Yes” campaign, helping it to dominate the “No” side.

“Both sides didn’t (get money); the pro side did,” said Neil Markley, executive director of the Sonoma State Enterprises auxiliary, one of four that are to fund the center’s construction and operations.

“We are obviously a partner in the project and certainly have a vested interest,” Markley said. “I don’t think we would have supported a group opposed to the center.”

Gallino also said that while the election code prohibits “campaigning during election days using any electronic device,” SSU Vice President of Student Affairs Chuck Rhodes emailed residential students arguing for the fee.

Rhodes said he sent the email to 300 to 400 members of the mailing list of the SSU Multicultural Center, which he oversees, to correct “misinformation” disseminated by the “No” campaign. A staff member forwarded it to the broader student body, he said.

“You can say what the hell you want to say and so can I. My understanding is under current policy it did not violate the election code,” Rhodes said.

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