Friday, February 10, 2012

Graduation consolidation

The DE has an article on the new commencement scheme which, following other campus trends, moves us toward centralization. The DE also prints a rather impassioned letter from a student in the College of Agriculture who isn't happy about the change. Rather than college level graduation ceremonies, we'll have clusters of colleges: Liberal Arts & Mass Comm; Agriculture, Applies Sciences, Engineering, and Science; and Business, Education, and Law. There will also be no August graduation, with summer graduates being allowed to walk six credits early in May. The Chancellor's email announcing the change is pasted at the end of this post.

As the letter writer notes, the downside of this change is that individual college traditions will be lost--despite the Chancellor's protestations to the contrary. While colleges will still be allowed to hold their own, additional ceremonies should they so choose, such ceremonies obviously risk rather low attendance, as not that many students, parents, or faculty are going to want to sit through a second ceremony--especially as the first one will now be rather longer. A decision not to outlaw separate ceremonies (which would be a rather extreme step even for this centralizing crew) isn't exactly the most robust form of upholding old traditions.

The advantage is that fewer ceremonies may produce a grander effect, more "pomp and circumstance" as CoLA Dean Kimberly Leonard is quoted as saying.  Graduates will now get to march in the robe parade together with faculty et al, for example, which is a nice touch, making them more actors and less audience.  Of course this innovation doesn't require centralization. At any rate, we'll have to wait and see whether fewer ceremonies are better than more.

If I don't find this issue particularly pressing, it is largely because my college, liberal arts (for now), hasn't made its college level ceremony particularly memorable. The only time there's any diversion from the bare-bones ceremony awarding degrees is when an honorary degree goes to someone who wants to give a speech, and the results there are predictably hit or miss. I think we ought to have a sermon of some sort at graduation, ideally one delivered by someone chosen to give a speech (rather than because of their lifetime achievements, contributions to SIUC, etc.--worthy reasons for recognition but not reasons to believe a good speech will be forthcoming). Of course this is a hard crowd--happy rowdy families and friends eager to see their favorites walk, not to hear some egghead talk. But a good speaker could send them off with one last lesson in a smart short speech. We don't need to come up with $20,000 to hire Bill Gates--a more memorable speech might come from a fluent SIUC professor, who could be gotten on the cheap. I still remember the graduate address given by one of my profs at my little college (wise advice I failed to follow). Hell, there might even be an administrator with something worth saying. While the real message of the day comes in the happy grads walking across the stage to the often rowdy appreciation of their fans, a few words spelling out one person's vision of what education means and of how it can continue would be worth a try.

Of course long time readers might suspect that we have here, as elsewhere, a central administrative conspiracy. After all, while students, their friends and family, and the most important group of all, we professors, will end up spending more time stuck in graduation ceremonies, there is one class of individual who will spend less time there. The central administrative types who used to have to attend four or five ceremonies each graduation season will now only have to attend only three.

To the University Community:

After an extensive review of our traditions and practices, we are planning a number of enhancements to commencement and I want to share the key changes with you.  I am confident that as we preserve our honored traditions, we also will establish new ones that will help create an even more memorable experience for students and families, faculty, staff and alumni who participate, and our many friends.

Our plans are based on the recommendations of a campus-wide Commencement Task Force that met during the fall semester.  The task force included students, faculty, administrators and staff.  Several of the task force members are long-time participants in our commencement ceremonies, who, like me, want to make that day even more special. In December, I shared the recommendations with vice chancellors and deans and invited their feedback.

Throughout the fall, task force members reviewed best practices at a wide variety of institutions, including IBHE peers and more than 15 additional highly regarded universities throughout the country.  Their goal was to provide recommendations that would create a campus commencement that is unique and that has an institutional impact on students, while maintaining a more intimate relationship with their school and college.

An implementation team, comprised of a representative of each academic unit, has been assembled to work on the myriad of details that need attention to assure a high-quality commencement.

Here are some of the changes you will see in May:

 Three ceremonies are planned, all of which will take place on May 12 in the SIU Arena.  The 8:30 a.m. ceremony will include the Colleges of Liberal Arts, and Mass Communication and Media Arts.  The 1:30 p.m. ceremony will include the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Applied Sciences and Arts, Engineering, and Science.  The 5:30 p.m. ceremony will include the Colleges of Business, and Education and Human Services, and the School of Law.

 Effective this year, commencement ceremonies will take place in May and December.

 We will confer graduate and law degrees with our undergraduates.  This was well received during the December 2011 commencement. Doing so demonstrates for undergraduates what is possible, and provides a broader audience to celebrate the achievements of our master‚s, doctoral and law students.  We will work with the colleges and schools to support their individual commencement-related recognition events.

 We have developed a new policy to allow students who may be finishing their studies in the summer months to participate in May commencement. Undergraduate students and master‚s degree candidates who are within six hours of eligibility for graduation may apply to participate early in commencement by completing the graduation application form and payment of the graduation fee by the posted deadline.  Doctoral candidates must have met their graduation requirements to participate in the May ceremony.

 We will recognize college-level Alumni Achievement Recipients, who will be part of the platform party.

 All degree candidates will walk across the stage when their name is called, as has always been the case. All degree candidates will participate in a processional into the Arena, along with the faculty and platform party.

A commencement website ( is under development, and will include detailed information that will help everyone plan for that day. These and many other changes will enhance commencement by maintaining important traditions and creating new ones that are student-focused and help to highlight and celebrate our pride in their accomplishments.  I want to publicly thank the task force and implementation team members for the countless hours they have devoted to this effort, and I look forward to joining you in these celebrations of excellence.


Rita Cheng

1 comment:

  1. One point that seems to have been overlooked in all of this centralization is that the Grad School commencement in August was the same size as those in May and in December. This is at least in part because for many of our professional programs, students are intentionally enrolled through the end of summer. Further, while there is nominal notice of this with the permission for master's student within 6 credits to walk in May, this does nothing to address the needs of our doc students who finish and defend in summer, or the master's students taking more than six credits in summer--and their number is not insignificant. Particularly affected are our international students, and those doc students who get hired after defending in summer, and who don't have the time and money to return for December commencement.

    While on the one hand I appreciate the decision to unite the grad ceremonies with those of the undergrads, this really has done a disservice to the grad students. Sure, it's important for the undergrads to see and aspire to a grad career, but does this really justify destroying commencement for a significant number of students?


I will review and post comments as quickly as I can. Comments that are substantive and not vicious will be posted promptly, including critical ones. "Substantive" here means that your comment needs to be more than a simple expression of approval or disapproval. "Vicious" refers to personal attacks, vile rhetoric, and anything else I end up deeming too nasty to post.