After graduating students overwhelmingly indicated in a survey that they would prefer to have April’s spring commencement on campus, members of the University’s newly-formed Commencement Advisory Committee decided not to hold the ceremony at Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium, as previously planned.
The decision was made after the survey, sent via e-mail to all students scheduled to graduate in April, found that about 90 percent of the nearly 4,000 respondents said holding commencement on campus was “very important” to them.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said having that information made taking Eastern Michigan off the list a logical choice.
“When the priorities came back so overwhelmingly to have it on campus, it was natural that one of those venues would go off, and that venue was Eastern,” said Cunningham, who said the University hopes to decide on a new venue in the next two weeks.
The University announced on Jan. 9 that it was moving the Spring Commencement ceremony from Michigan Stadium to Eastern Michigan’s Rynearson Stadium because ongoing construction at the Big House could make it unsafe to hold the ceremony there.
Immediately after the announcement, students mobilized to protest the decision to move the commencement venue. Thousands of students joined Facebook groups while hundreds of students and alumni more sent e-mail messages to University administrators.
Eventually, students began to voice their preferences. Most said that if commencement couldn’t be held at the Big House, they would be happier with venues like Crisler Arena or the Diag than with an off-campus location.
The Commencement Advisory Committee, which consists of University officials and three students, was formed after the announcement of the University’s decision to move the campus-wide ceremony to Eastern Michigan. LSA senior Justin Benson, vice president of LSA Student Government and a member of the advisory committee, said the decision to keep commencement on campus was a result of “student activism and involvement in the forums” between University officials and graduating students.
“It’s clear that students wanted to graduate in Ann Arbor and the committee had that feedback,” Benson said. “Students can be confident that commencement will be on campus.”
The committee will continue to explore options for a campus venue, Benson said. Once the committee has decided on three possibilities, another survey will be sent to graduating students.
Both Cunningham and Benson said Michigan Stadium is still a possible location for commencement exercises. Architects and engineers will evaluate the stadium’s construction project in the next few weeks to determine if the Big House would be safe and functional for the event.
In an effort to gauge student sentiment about different aspects of the ceremony, the University held forums for students to give their opinions and created the survey.
Cunningham said the results of the survey will drive the committee’s evaluation of possible venues.
According to the survey results, students planning to receive bachelor’s degrees in the spring accounted for 87 percent of respondents, while 9 percent of respondents expected to receive master’s degrees and 4 percent Ph.D. degrees.
About 60 percent of respondents said they still favored holding the ceremony on campus, even if it meant that only a limited number of guests could attend in person while other guests watched via video feed from a satellite venue.
A majority of respondents said it was important for them to attend the same ceremony as graduates from the same school or college and friends from different schools or colleges.
About half of respondents also said venue handicap accessibility was “Not at all important” or “Not very important.”
Although many students have proposed holding commencement at Crisler Arena – home to the Michigan basketball and women’s gymnastics teams – Crisler Arena has just 18 wheelchair-accessible seats, said assistant athletic director Rob Rademacher.
Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium, which was initially proposed by University officials as a venue for commencement, has a total capacity of 30,200 and contains 177 handicap-accessible seats, according to the Eastern Michigan Athletics Department.
LSA senior Greta Wengenroth said she would be disappointed if graduation isn’t held at the Big House, but was relieved to hear the committee decided to hold the event on the University’s campus.
“It would still be a success if it’s on campus,” Wengenroth said. “It being at another University would be unacceptable.”
LSA senior Carrie Quell agreed .
“The best case scenario would be to have it in the Big House, but this is a small victory,” Quell said.
– David Kinzer contributed to this report.