Spring Commencement could still be held at Michigan Stadium, University officials said at a forum yesterday.
Students have protested the University’s announcement last week that it would hold graduation at Eastern Michigan University, using websites and Facebook groups to mobilize.
The forum was held to give students the opportunity to voice concerns about the plans, which University officials said became necessary because of the ongoing construction of luxury boxes at the stadium.
After hearing the background behind the decision from University officials, students took the floor to voice their frustrations, ask further questions and propose alternatives that would bring the ceremony back to campus.
These options included holding the ceremony in the Diag or at Crisler Arena with overflow seating at Hill Auditorium. Many students said they just wanted to be in Ann Arbor for their graduation.
Michelle Pate, director of University and Development Events, said the administration needed to gather more information to determine how feasible holding commencement in the Big House would be.
Pate said there are safety concerns because the stadium might not have enough entry and exit portals at this point. The number of portals would be reduced from 44, which is how many the stadium has for football games, to between four and six because of the construction, she said.
One option under consideration is holding graduation in one corner of the stadium on the North or South side because the East and West sides would be inaccessible.
University officials said they had thought commencement could still take place at Michigan Stadium despite the construction until the middle of December, when they began looking at other options.
Pate said various factors like the number of tickets available to each student were main concerns of the administration. University officials said that any commencement venue would need at least 31,500 seats, giving each graduate eight tickets to distribute, as in previous years. Pate said the University considered locations like Crisler Arena, Elbel Field, the Diag, Yost Ice Arena and Eastern Michigan’s Rynearson Stadium. She said University officials decided that Eastern Michigan’s Rynearson Stadium, which holds about 30,200 people and is 6.4 miles away from Michigan Stadium, was the best fit.
“Off-campus is not ideal for us either,” Pate said. “EMU met the larger group’s needs.”
During the meeting, many students voiced their frustration that they were not included in the decision-making process from the beginning.
“You knew there was a problem in the fall – why didn’t you tell us then?” one student said. “We could have brainstormed together.”
Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, apologized to students who felt insulted by the decision.
“We won’t give an excuse,” she said. “We’re just really sorry.”
During the forum, University officials passed out 11 electronic survey devices to gauge students’ priorities for commencement. The survey asked students a range of questions, including how willing they would be to have five or fewer guests at the ceremony and how important it was to hold the ceremony on campus.
One question in the survey asked how important a Big House graduation would be for seniors. Of the 130 students in the room, 95 percent responded by saying they wanted Michigan Stadium.
Most students surveyed said they didn’t care about the stadium’s utilities being in working order.
Originally, University officials said that a lack of functioning utilities – including bathrooms and running water – would prevent Michigan Stadium from being able to hold this spring’s commencement.
About half of the students present said it was important that individuals with limited mobility have access to wherever the commencement is held. About a third of those present said they would be willing to host five or fewer guests, and a majority said they wanted to be seated together, rather than split between venues.
LSA sophomore John Lin, one of the few underclassmen at the meeting, came because he wanted to see if University officials would listen to students. He said he believed the forum made a difference.
“They seemed to have a genuine interest in what we have to say and a genuine desire to find an adequate solution to the problem,” Lin said.
Other students said the meeting was less productive.
Kylene Yen, a senior in the Ross School of Business, said most of the meeting was spent complaining about what had already happened instead of what could be done.
“It was half an hour of explaining and an hour-and-a-half of angry, frustrated students saying the same things,” she said.
Harper said the University is committed to working with students to come to a decision about commencement plans.
“We’ve got work to do and we’re going to do it,” Harper said