After more than a month of outrage from seniors and a lot of backpedaling by the University, there’s good and bad news. The good: Graduation won’t be in Ypsilanti. The bad: It won’t be at Michigan Stadium. With two remaining venues for Spring Commencement, the University did exactly what it should have done months ago: assemble acceptable options and provide students with a compelling excuse for why the Big House is out of the running. However, it is important that neither students nor the University forget that both solutions are consolation prizes, necessary only after the University botched the original planning. And they were agreed upon only after student input was sought.
While the news that commencement won’t be held in a city that many students have never even visited – let alone feel attached to – is certainly welcome, there weren’t any winners after last week’s announcement. The simple fact is that it should have never gotten to this point.
What the University did to students was insulting. First, it forgot about them in the supposedly well-planned stadium construction project. Then, it blindsided them with the announcement (not the option) of holding graduation in an unacceptable venue, Rynearson Stadium. And finally, it tried to come out of the whole thing as the savior, surveying students, sympathizing with their anger, explaining itself and offering two better options: Elbel Field and the Diag. But these aren’t landmark victories. They are desperate settlements.
Granted, Elbel Field and the Diag are both good options, and students should weight these alternatives carefully. The University’s explanation for why the Big House is no longer an option is also understandable. Any reasonable person would probably agree that dodging 80 foot-deep craters to get into the stadium is not safe for guests and filling them in with 40 semi-truck loads worth of asphalt is not good for the environment.
However, the way the University haphazardly solicited input from students – conducting flawed surveys and meeting with very few student representatives – was questionable and months late. You didn’t need to be a statistician to notice that the surveys asked questions that were misleading and in many cases unnecessary. For example, on the survey it asked how important issues of accessibility were. But the bottom line is that any graduation venue has to be accessible by law – why would it matter what students think? Further, a survey question asked students to select what the most important factor in a graduation is, offering a choice between having eight guests at the ceremony, being at the ceremony in person and having the ceremony on campus. Yet, these options aren’t mutually exclusive.
Even after this problem, the fact that it took the University so long to supply its explanations and final options illustrates how little analysis it did before choosing to hold commencement at Eastern Michigan University, not how hard it worked to rectify the situation.
The University must learn from this experience and mend its tattered relationship with students. It must stop discounting the value of public discussion. The University might have avoided all of this mess had it not suppressed opposing voices and rammed its plans through the approval process. That approach barely worked with adding luxury boxes to Michigan Stadium. It didn’t work with commencement, and it’s not the way the University ought to do business. If the University had been up front with students after it realized that graduation couldn’t be held at the Big House, it could have avoided the embarrassment of a planned ceremony at EMU. It could have saved itself the time and money it spent planning and replanning graduation too.
Believe it or not, students can be reasonable and understanding if they aren’t deceived and marginalized. The University has a lot to learn. Next time, it should try not to make the survey misleading.