Law students protest graduation scheduled during finals

By Gus Bode

Bryan McLeod would like to celebrate his law school graduation in the spring, but he may have a final the next morning.

McLeod, a third-year law student from Sesser, is one of thousands of students that will experience an atypical graduation schedule in the spring because of Saluki Way renovations to SIU Arena. Spring and summer ceremonies will move to the smaller Shryock Auditorium and be spread across four days instead of two.

The change has left students such as McLeod outraged class work would continue after commencement, and concerned for guests that would have to attend a mid-week graduation.

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Tina Collins, director of records and registration, said she scheduled two ceremonies for colleges with a large number of graduates to squeeze everyone into Shryock. For instance, students receiving master’s degrees in the spring will graduate at either 8:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. May 8, according to a schedule of commencement ceremonies approved by interim Chancellor Sam Goldman.

This method will prevent coordinators from having to limit the number of guests a graduate can bring, Collins said.

“Size was our only consideration at first,” Collins said. “We’re hoping to not have to go to a ticket system.”

Goldman has said he wants to keep the ceremonies on campus, and Shryock is the only venue that can accommodate that goal.

“It’s not going to be as convenient as it was, but for those two years we’re going to have to do it,” Goldman said.

The schedule also reveals that seniors in the colleges of Education and Human Services, Liberal Arts and Applied Sciences and Arts would also graduate in one of two ceremonies. A list of when specific majors graduate will be announced at a later date, Collins said.

Associate Athletic Director Jason King said moving the ceremonies into Shryock is necessary while SIU Arena undergoes its Saluki Way renovation, which includes new restrooms and seating. The renovation was scheduled to avoid interference with the 2009-2010 basketball season, which allows December commencements traditionally held in the arena to carry on as normal, King said.

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Graduation will begin with the School of Law at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 7, and end with engineering the following Sunday evening, according to a schedule approved by Goldman.

McLeod said that decision was made with poor judgment.

“(Guests) would have to take off three days of work to come to the graduation, and for some people that’s not feasible,” McLeod said. “Our graduation is something for us for working so hard and to show our family what we’ve done, and they’re taking that away from us.”

Commencements are normally scheduled for consecutive Friday and Saturdays, Collins said.

Stephanie Fueger, also a third-year law student, said the current schedule means she may have final exams the mornings before and after graduation. She said that would eliminate time that could be spent celebrating with family and friends since law school final exams take four hours on average.

“Law school is an enormous time commitment and sacrifice,” Fueger said. “My classmates and I have spouses, significant others and children who have endured this sacrifice with us. It seems appropriate to have one day to celebrate these accomplishments with the people who have enabled them.”

Law School Dean Peter Alexander said the school would try to schedule finals before graduation, but would wait until students have registered for spring classes before doing so.

Alexander said half of the graduating class took a survey two weeks into the semester to help him decide what to do about graduation. The survey gave students five alternative dates and venues or the option to keep graduation as is, he said.

The results showed no preference, Alexander said, so graduation was unchanged and printed on the university’s calendar. Once the date was printed, it could not be changed, Alexander said in an e-mail.

McLeod said that rule makes no sense.

“We can’t change it because it’s printed, but even if we have a basketball game scheduled to air on ESPN, that can be rescheduled,” he said.

Collins said she explored the possibility of moving commencements to a larger venue such as the Williamson County Pavilion in Marion, which could have prevented graduation from taking four days. That idea fell through when Goldman said he wanted to keep graduation on campus, Collins said.

Matt Shackleton, an event coordinator at Shryock, said he agreed with the chancellor’s desire to keep graduation on campus – even if it meant setting up tents outside the auditorium where an overflow crowd could watch the ceremony on a projection screen.

“I hope (graduates) will feel like they’re in a beautiful facility. That’s a good way to end their college career,” he said.

Sean McGahan contributed to this report.

Barton Lorimor can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 263 or [email protected].

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