Monday, May 14, 2012


A quick review of the new SIUC graduation: I think the new ceremony is an improvement. 

I attended the ceremony for the colleges of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication and Media Arts.  The new ceremony was more of a show (as in the confetti below), but on the whole this was a good thing, I think. Past Liberal Arts graduations, at any rate, were almost entirely formulaic; some years the distinguished alum would give a speech (of varied quality), and a representative of the alumni association would make a quick pitch for that organization, but other than that it was mainly "by the power vested in me" language, followed by the long if joyous parade of grads across the stage. Most years no one made any effort to say anything inspirational. Surely graduates should get someone making an effort to send them off with some words of wisdom. Now they do.

At this year's graduation the alumni association speaker was wisely put ahead of the conferral of degrees (after which point all are rowdy and ready to leave), and Dr. Marsha Ryan gave a nice brief speech. The Chancellor herself gave a little speech intended to impress the graduates with what they'd accomplished, and though it was  too much of a paean to SIUC (recycling much of her rhetoric in that line) rather than being centered on the graduates, at least she tried something. Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of Gabby Giffords, gave a nice speech, using telling anecdotes from his naval career to make points to our grads. The stories were better than the lessons, but they were good stories. He was a lousy pilot, told after making his first landing on an aircraft carrier that he might want to consider another line of work: so you too, graduates, ought not to judge your aptitude for a task by your initial performance at it. Returning from the first night's bombing of Iraq during Iraq War I, Kelly detoured 200 miles east into Iran to avoid anti-aircraft fire, didn't tell anyone, and almost got shot down when returning to his ship. Communications skills are important. Kelly closed by speaking of Gabby Gifford's fight to recover from her wounds in an inspirational way.

We got through the whole thing, including two colleges, hooding of PhDs and everyone else walking across stage, in two hours. The main trick was having grads walk from each end of the stage to the middle, where the Chancellor gamely pivoted to shake each hand. This roughly doubled the rate at which degrees were handed out. While PhD students got hooded, and MA students got their departmental affiliation noted (unfortunately one of the masters of ceremonies, there for his marvelous PA voice, did not know how to pronounce the term "linguistics"--which he pronounced as "linguini-istics"), undergrads got only their names, without their degrees or honors mentioned. This is however perhaps the sort of change you need to make to get through this many students this quickly--quickly enough to pay a graduation speaker like Kelly to do "only" three speeches. 

Instead of pausing to recognize parents of graduates (round of applause), siblings of graduates (more applause), spouses or spouses to be, etc., etc., the Chancellor tried to do all at once, which came off lamely. Lavish the extra four minutes on doing each group separately: it is always good form to get your audience to applaud themselves.

Thus there were some losses from the older style ceremony, and there were also some false notes. The video presentation that introduced Kelly was over the top--resembling the video extravaganzas one would expect to introduce NBA teams. It began tastelessly with a jarring plunge into news footage from the assassination attempt on his wife. It made me cringe, and while Kelly must be used to this sort of introduction, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd approved the tape. If Kelly needed an introduction (and I doubt he did), someone could have done this verbally, or at least the video could have begun less shamelessly.

I didn't see the students enter the ceremony; my understanding is that they got to march in, which I think is a fine idea. They were not seated by departments, which was too bad, though I don't know if they were able to sit with friends or were forced into some other sort of arrangement. (They were much less rowdy, so I wonder if the organizers put them next to strangers to keep them in line.)

My major gripe is a typically faculty-centered concern. There was essentially no faculty processional; we were introduced as we walked in and took seats at the sides of the arena--front row seats, but not seats down with the participants in the ceremony (the graduates) but with the spectators. I think it would have been worth the extra five minutes to have the faculty walk around the room and down the center aisle or the like--ideally as a part of the student procession, to mark the fact that the students, as degree holders, had now bridged some of the divide between faculty and students. In the current scheme of things, faculty are rather sidelined; we just walk in and take our assigned seats on the sides of the arena. The message is that faculty are part of the audience rather than part of the ceremony. If there isn't room for us in the center, fine--that space belongs to the graduates. But can't we at least be part of the parade?

On the whole, though, there was nothing wrong with this ceremony that a little tinkering can't fix, and it is a definite improvement over the old one. 


  1. Eh, I'm not so sure. But I appreciate you approaching it so positively.

    I suppose that where you stand on this one depends on where you sit.

    For some units, this new ceremony was an unwelcome and arbitrary destruction of traditions. The Chancellor was dismissive of student and faculty concerns at first, and then became increasingly petulant, bullying, insulting, and, finally, threatening to students, faculty, and administrators who politely tried to persuade her to change her mind. It was deeply disappointing to some students, who leave here as alumni with a bad final impression.

    One of my alma maters made a similar blunder with our graduation, and I have classmates who have yet to forgive or forget (or donate) 20 years later.


    And now, to the extent the Chancellor is unhappy with the results of her bad decision, she's pushing blame down, instead of seeing the flaws in her changes.

    I'm disgusted that she chose to take resistance to her pet idea so personally. Like a spoiled monarch.

    I wasn't on the FA's side during the strike, although the Chancellor's aggressive and disingenuous statements made me increasingly sympathetic as events unfurled.

    For my part, graduation has caused me to now see the Chancellor the way the FA sees her. I can sympathize with you if you are astounded that graduation is where one might draw the line, but, hey, whatever it takes, right?

    1. A sick man of SIUC.

    2. If your unit had rich traditions, I can see where you're coming from. CoLA's tradition not being particularly rich (in my view), we had little to lose in return for the confetti etc.

    3. COLA at least had a valedictorian, something that has been removed. I think it vitally important that a deserving and accomplished student have the right to address their classmates on such an important day.

      Further, the conferring of undergraduate degrees was nothing more than an assembly line. No mention of majors or awards.

      This is all about condensing graduation into as few events as possible for the sake of the administration, and to marginalize the faculty, who, as you say, were simply seated in the audience rather than on the floor with their students. Further, the students weren't even grouped by major so that faculty could at least get up and greet and congratulate them as they left the stage.

      And then to have the announcer tell everyone about the new "tradition" to have your picture taken with the Saluki outside of the arena was the icing on on the cake. This is how traditions are started - with your basketball announcer telling you what it is?

    4. I suspect the new "tradition" was designed largely to clear out the arena so they could get ready for the next ceremony. Some departments had made a habit of gathering near the stage for photos, and that was no longer possible. But many a hoary tradition has a similarly banal origin. Having students sit together by department did help them to connect with departmental faculty--but we can try telling our students to meet at some point outside to say hello, should they wish to, next year. There was rather too much in the way of athletic style cheerleading invading the ceremony for my taste--it hardly seemed a coincidence that graduation took place in the basketball arena--but I try not to mistake my taste for that of most students and their parents. And, hell, it's nice to have the arena sold out at least a couple of times a year.

      Did CoLA regularly recognize a valedictorian at graduation? I'd forgotten. At the new ceremony there was at least a shout out for the surprisingly many students with 4.0 averages.

  2. Yeah, I'd really like to know exactly which traditions were "destroyed." And each unit had the opportunity to have their own separate session anyway...and could have preserved those revered "traditions" is they so desired. I wonder if any actually did.

    Me thinks some people are using this as another opportunity to slam the chancellor, much the same way the right constantly finds ways to dis President Obama no matter what the issue or outcome.

    1. I completely agree. Also a little insight for everyone, Chancellor Cheng did not decide to make these changes on her own. A committee was put together with representatives from each college. So as you said this is just another chance for people to bash Chancellor Cheng when in reality each college was represented.

    2. Anon. 8:25 AM:
      I disagree with you. Sure, "The Rita Show" comment smacks of someone who would slam the chancellor no matter what, but other comments name particular aspects of the new commencement that people didn't like: too much pomp surrounding the dignitaries' entrances, not enough pomp surrounding the undergraduates' names and degrees, too long of a ceremony, etc.. These are all specific criticisms of the first year of a new ceremony. They don't bash the chancellor herself, and they point out aspects of the ceremony that could be improved next semester or year.

      Regarding the "each college was represented" statement:
      How was it decided that a task force to reform graduation was needed?
      How were the members of the task force selected? (Hint: They weren't chosen by the Faculty Senate, and I don't recall a call for volunteers from my dean.)
      How was the chair of the task force selected?
      How was the charge of the task force determined?
      Who was allowed to see the charge of the task force and the task force's report?
      As far as I know, all of those questions have a single answer; the chancellor decided.

      Commencement is a small enough issue that I don't have a problem with that answer to those questions. I do have a problem with that answer being typical for university committees and task forces lately.

    3. Dear paranoid, may I ask you some questions?

      How is your departmental (math) committees form? Most of them is appointed by the chair, right? Now the similar questions (you listed above) are also suitable to you.

    4. Dear Anonymous May 23, 2012 8:08 AM,

      May I answer you in more than one part?

      If you want to know how the Department of Mathematics forms committees, you don't need to ask me. You can look at the operating paper. You'll see that it's about evenly divided between chair-appointed and faculty-elected committees. It certainly isn't as democratic as, say, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, but I expect that I could find another department that's less democratic than math if I spent enough time reading department operating papers.

      In all of the operating papers, there are differences from the chancellor deciding who will be on committees and what the committees' roles will be. One difference is that if the faculty think the chair is stacking committees, the faculty vote to can change the operating paper or change the chair. There isn't such a mechanism for faculty who think the chancellor is doing the same. Another difference is that most departments are hard-pressed to find people to volunteer for committees, so chair appointments in practice often mean that whoever is willing gets to do it. An appointment from the chancellor is harder to turn down than one from the chair, and as I mentioned, unlike department committees, the calls for volunteers aren't really coming.

      In another part, I'll pontificate on the balancing act of shared governance, but I think this answer addresses the bulk of your question.

    5. Dear Anonymous May 23, 2012 8:08 AM,

      The question about "your departmental (math)" has an assumption that I'm a faculty member in the math department. That assumption puts me in an awkward spot.

      I can ignore the assumption, thus tacitly confirming it. I can deny it, thus opening up the follow-up questions. Are you lying? If you aren't lying are you from Anthropology? Cinema and Photography? Dental Hygiene? Economics? Forestry? Geology? History?

      I won't do either. I have my reasons for being paranoid, and you have your reasons for being anonymous. If you want to fish around for who I "really" am, you are a hypocrite.

  3. This is nothing less than "The Rita Show." Anon. 3.17 has it right here. Instead of smaller ceremonies according to past traditions, this was turned into another administrative extraganza equivalent to the time-consuming nature of the Academ7y Awards. At least, we were spared the 2001 theme or the Provost taking up the mike to seranade Rita with "Fly Me to the Moon." It is another example of ego on the part of somebody who refuses to accept in-put from concerned people on many issues, the Pulliam Hall episode being another. Rather than "Big Top Peewee" we now have "Big Top Rita."

  4. To Anon8: 28. From a recent interview with Harry Belafonte.

    "The President came up to us and asked, 'Why don't you guys cut me some slack?'

    I replied, `We have!"

    Not only the right criticizes President Drone.

    Similarly, the Chancellor is not immune from criticism.

  5. Should Tony William be immune from criticism? Except for criticism, what else you can do? Please criticize yourself if you love to do so. Never be productive. How much trash is going to be generated by these garbage men?

  6. OK Tony, fine. Do all the criticizing you want...

    That's not my point.

    I want to know just what are all the revered traditions that must be preserved?

    1. Anon. 8:28/10:48:

      The scuttlebutt that I heard (second and third hand) was that School of Law got consolidated with other colleges, even though they didn't want to be. The graduation ceremony was scheduled for the same time that the School of Law already had scheduled for their ceremony.

      From what I can tell from their Web site, the School of Law hooding ceremony was moved to earlier in the day, so the issue was resolved eventually, but I heard about a lot of unnecessary unhappiness a few months ago when they were trying to resolve things.

  7. In the past each College had their own form of special graduation ceremony that was not part of a huge circus. This resulted in a more intimate and less crowded ceremony that was collegial in the best sense of the word. That is one example of a revered tradition that we have now lost. The change was done in Rita's usual manner - without any form of consultation with those affected.

    1. It is these negative people (like Tony) who are destroying the FA. They do nothing in their life except complaining. Let me quote:

      “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

      Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

      Steve Jobs has changed our lives not just with the Apple technology, but he has also inspired us all with his determination and dedication to his craft.

    2. Steve Jobs? If you're going to point a finger at Tony for complaining, you can do better than pick Steve Jobs as a role model.



      The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton

  8. Anon.10:48 (&10:37?), Isn't criticism part of the role of an educated citizenry, to say nothing of educational institutions, a function designed to raise awareness and evoke skepticism over particular issues? For you, apparently not. Your attitude is more of the servility expected of employees in corporate institutions such as Enron and J.P. Morgan (as well as that occupant of The White House with his "Trust Me" response to concerns about Presidential decisions concerning assassinations of American citizens.

    If you look at today's Southern Report, the law students were also critical of Rita's Big Top arrangement and decided to have their own graduation ceremony as before.

    Rather than follow the Anon.7:35 Reader's Digest "Thoughts for the Day" banal mandate,to say nothing of its conservative religious ideological mechanism, I'll postpone my meeting with the Big Guy in the sky, and continue to destroy the FA with raising criticial issues.

    Billy. "They say God's fast with a gun. Maybe I'll have a chance to find out." (Kris Kristofferson in Sam Peckinpah's 1973 PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID)

    Perhaps it is now time for Anon to reveal his/her identity?

    1. Dave is at it again--trying to please the Chacellor and company with his posts on this blog! NOw, we may, ponder, why is Dave doing that? YOu don't have to look too far for the answer! It's right under our noses!
      The Graduation ceremony should be a special event and it is better if it were done within each college. Graduation this year ended up being more like a factory line---Mass production of this and that. It is not surprising that is how the CESOs of this university view the students and faculty.

  9. While I appreciated some of the efforts to make this a truly special occasion, and thought Kelly was a nice choice for a speaker, on the whole I found the new ceremony both unpleasant and ridiculous. The time was the biggest issue: I arrived at 4:45, as assigned, was lined up and funneled downstairs to stand backstage waiting some more at 5:10, was seated at around 5:25, and was among the very first to leave the arena at 8:10 p.m. This is a far, far cry from the Grad School commencements of 75-90 minutes that were the norm in past years, or from the 1.5-2 hour event that was promised!

    As the ceremony dragged on, children were screaming, family members generally were restless and wandering in and out, and I was informed by several students that their family members had not come at all because of fear of the hideously lengthened ceremony, or had left early due to various health issues. I also noticed several members of the platform party slipping offstage at various points (mingling with the grads)--presumably to visit restrooms, stretch cramped legs, and get a drink of water. If the Law School had not chosen to boycott, I believe we would have been there for another 20-30 minutes, too.

    And did anyone else find the whole focus of the Processional to be a little odd? I love having all of our students involved, but what was with the long pauses between participants, and especially with the big buildup to the Chancellor's solitary progress down the aisle (with different and special music), preceded by the acolyte-like individual bearing the University Charter? Why can the platform party not simply file into place like ordinary mortals, as they did in the past?

    I think the portion of the ceremony focused upon the graduates--our supposed purpose for being there--really suffered in this version. Others have already mentioned the VERY rapid pace for the undergrads, with no announcement at all of departments. The master's students did get the department announced, but not their specific program, which is also a change from prior years. The booming voice of our announcer on the one side was a sharp contrast to the much quieter voices of faculty volunteer readers on the other--with names and programs either mangled (as noted above) or difficult to make out over the din.

    Then, of course, there was the considerable pomp attached to the hooding of the doc students. Not that I want this to change, but the contrast with what comes afterward really de-emphasizes the undergrad portion of the ceremony--a major negative, in my mind. Having grad commencement as a separate event is a normal procedure at many, many comparable institutions; why on earth was this abolished here?

  10. While it wasn't as bad as I feared, I still prefer our old MCMA college ceremony. I thought it was pretty cheap that the bachelors candidates did not get a diploma cover. I liked the SIU stoles and the maroon gowns for graduate degrees. I thought the deal with the charter being placed alter-like on the stage was weird. One of my colleagues suggested the college pairings might foreshadow future changes.

  11. I liked the ceremony, generally. With all change, something is lost and something is gained. Smaller is more intimate, but also more isolated. This university needs, in my opinion, more efforts to communicate its wholism rather than its individual pockets of concern. The commencement heightened elements of spectacle in the ritual of completion. I think that ritual needs to be timely and brief, but then the COLA/MCMA version managed to come in at a rather crisp 2 hours.

    I also liked that graduates were combined with undergraduates. It's important for UG's to see that there are degrees beyond the one they are receiving; that further degrees bring more honors (a hood, the name of your program, etc.). It is also important for those receiving graduate degrees to see the full route they have come. And of course, in many cases grads and undergrads in this ceremony have worked together; they share community and so share the ritual of its commencement.

    I appreciate an honorary degree and a celebrity commencement speaker. I would vote for combining those roles. I'm interested in what the honored figure has to say; I think anyone worth giving the opportunity to pass wisdom on to graduates should probably be worthy of an honorary degree. I'd sacrifice some of the bureaucratic speeches (the brevity of the BOT chair's statement suggests that is an unnecessary element) in favor of a student speech (Valedictorian? Selected award winner?). Given the "hands on" and student-focus of our branding campaign, that ceremony seemed remarkably uninterested in student accomplishment or voice.

    Speaking of campaigns, I thought I sensed a bit of Lipman-Hearne's coordinated messaging. Kelly's speech echoed one of our recent slogans ("There's no such thing as too much ambition"), but I think something was lost in translation. Kelly addresses not being held back by your perceived limitations. He encourages graduates to have big goals; reaching them is less important than what you accomplish in the attempt. All good messages. But the condensation of this idea into our current slogan misses that point and implies another. World literature and history are full of caution about hubris and the dangers of the classic overreacher. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too much ambition; Godwin's Law prevents me from citing the more obvious historical example.

    Perhaps nothing was more painful and more revelatory than the final words encouraging a "new tradition": fondle the bronze saluki. Acknowledging the outside mingle as part of the ceremony and giving time and space for that is insightful. But some things must rise from the roots; an administrative memo did not establish the rubbing of Lincoln's nose in Morris library for luck on an exam. Perhaps this administration only values the grass roots actions it sprinkles from above -- like confetti or streamers shot from a cannon. Perhaps there is something to be said for working with traditions than trying with such a heavy hand to create new ones. I was happy to see the graduates modified the instructions and chose, instead, to drape the saluki in recovered streamers. It ended up looking like it was bandaged in the detritus of spectacle -- an apt visual message, perhaps, for our true state of our institution.


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.