They’ve waded across the fountain by the Michigan League, tiptoed around the Block M on the Diag and maybe even kissed a future spouse at midnight under the West Hall arch. But now, in a shocking break of Michigan tradition, the class of 2008 will not graduate in the Big House – the most celebrated event in an undergraduate career as a Wolverine. The announcement that commencement will be held at Eastern Michigan University’s Rynearson Stadium last week doesn’t simply buck tradition: It is another disturbing example of students and the University community facing the repercussions of a clumsily planned stadium construction project and an administration running roughshod over trivialities like reason, fairness and the will of students. Graduation belongs at the Big House, and it must be there in 2008.
For the last three years, the Big House construction plans have been rift with controversy. From stacked speakers’ lists to resolutions from the faculty expressing concern to a lawsuit by the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America to complaints from the U.S. Department of Education, the University has consistently ignored voices of dissent in its overzealous push to reel in even more profits from the Big House.
As if discriminating against people in wheelchairs and silencing dissent wasn’t bad enough, the University has now thrown an entire class of more than 6,000 graduating seniors under the bus too – just another minor speed bump on the road to riches for the Athletic Department.
The decision to move commencement to EMU reeks of the same incompetence, ignorance and blind vanity that have plagued the handling of the stadium project all along. The administration’s professed explanation for why graduation can’t be held at the Big House actually makes us want to believe it is lying: How can an entire administration have simply forgotten about commencement until a month ago? If this is the incompetence of the people running this university, then at least the class of 2008 deserved to know ahead of time so it could have gone to a place that wasn’t run so haphazardly.
The administration proposed a supposedly carefully planned construction schedule that worked around football games, yet claims it forgot about the most important event in the four years of a college education. Forgive us for believing no one, not even this University’s second-rate administration could be that stupid. Students deserve a more transparent explanation about how this debacle happened and why. Students who have lived the ideals of this university, not to mention struggled to pay its exorbitant tuition, deserve to be more than just an afterthought.
The regents, whose job it is to scrutinize the administration and ask the tough questions, deserve every bit of the blame too. Apparently spending most of their time singing University President Mary Sue Coleman’s praises, they also forgot about the most important event in the life of a college student while approving the $226-million construction plans. Graduation is the exact reason why students come to this university: to receive their degrees. Ironically, had the administration and the University Board of Regents not been so eager to silence any discussion about the stadium construction plans, this important issue would have come up and been dealt with in a far more satisfactory manner. Is that what the University was afraid of?
The University can’t correct its unacceptable lack of planning or its unapologetic lack of student input in the decision to hold graduation at EMU, but it absolutely must right the situation by bringing commencement back to the Big House, regardless of the cost. Generators, portable lighting and toilets, along with another three months to prepare the stadium make holding commencement at the Big House a definite possibility. This will cost money, but where should the University spend its money if not on things its students have every right to expect? Even if the stadium is not ready to hold commencement today, it certainly can be in three months.
E. Royster Harper, the University vice president of student affairs, indicated that if a vast majority of seniors disliked the Rynearson Stadium idea, then other solutions “would be worth a pause.” Graduating seniors, after years of hard work and commitment to the University, deserve more than just a “pause.” Student input should not be taken this lightly and students must continue to voice their opposition to this plan.
Students have been denied a voice in too many of the biggest decisions at the University over the past four years, but there is a limit to our patience. It is vital that students turn out in droves at the forums scheduled for them to voice their concerns about graduation. These forums are tonight at 4 p.m. and Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Michigan Student Assembly chambers on the third floor of the Michigan Union. We must let the administration know that moving graduation from the Big House will simply not be tolerated.