The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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CSUN commencement changes outrage students

CSUN commencement changes outrage students
Associated Students president, Christopher Woolett, and vice president, Talar Alexanian, listened to students express their concerns about the four tickets
graduation requirement that will go into effect for the 2014 ceremonies. Photo credit: Trevor Stamp / Daily Sundial

Despite student outcry and concerns, CSUN graduates will officially be required to conform to the use of a ticketing system as well as participate in combined college commencement ceremonies.

“These changes are happening,” said Dr. William Watkins, vice president of Student Affairs.

This will be the university’s first time using a ticketing system as well as the first year that college commencement ceremonies will be combined. Students will also be asked to stay seated for the entire duration of their commencement ceremony with the exception of being directed by faculty marshals to get up and leave for any reason.

The changes were officially finalized last week by CSUN President Dr. Dianne Harrison.

While CSUN’s Associated Students (A.S.) held an open forum on Monday for students to voice their opinion about the new changes, the decisions and plans were already finalized and have no chance of being altered for 2014.

“For better or for worse, an administrative decision like this has never been open to student referenda. Let’s say we had surveyed students and students said to us, ‘We want to continue to invite as many folk as we want.’ What solution would that had been to the very problem that we’re trying to resolve? I really am not one that ever wants to hold out in front of students. But we made sure that before we finalized this, we did pull in a group of students and to present it before those students and to hear their input on this, that did happen,” Watkins said.

However, A.S. President Christopher Woolett said that an ad hoc committee will be working together over the winter break to discuss student concerns about the new commencement changes, an action that he believes should ensure students that their opinions are valued.

“This winter break it is my hope is to talk with the president and vice president of student affairs about what students have said [at the open forum] and what they are continuing to say online,” Woolett said. “If this many students are feeling very passionate about this then its our responsibly to go to the administration and say this is what students feel and this is what we are going to push for.”

According Watkins, after last year’s commencement ceremonies consisted of about 7,000 students, President Harrison asked the university to look at different options in terms of the format, location and timing of commencement exercises. The two primary goals will be to reduce the amount of total ceremonies and address safety concerns with the growing amounts of graduating students and guests.

“What drives us to make changes to commencement ceremonies are some surge or gradual increase in the number of students that are participating and therefore we have to find a different venue. We’re seeing over the past 10 years, the campus has experienced over a 33 percent increase in the number of students participating in the ceremonies. In the past we’ve told students that they could bring three to five guests to commencement, but if you’ve gone to a commencement exercise so often will you see graduates with substantially more than that actually showing up,” Watkins said.

Furthermore, graduates and their guests will be asked to remain seated throughout the now lengthier combined college commencement ceremonies.

“Out of respect for all participants, graduates must stay throughout the entire ceremony and must remain seated unless otherwise directed by faculty marshals. We are going to ask students to prepare to be there for up to X length of time and we’re going to do our best to predict for students how long they can expect to stay. You’re not going to want to drink gallons of coffee,” Watkins said.

The decision making process

According to Watkins, the first meeting about making changes to the 2014 commencement ceremonies began last June 2013, a process that he said begun with him looking for other universities for guidance.

“When the president asked that I undertake this, I spent a lot of time online looking at commencement ceremonies at virtually every campus in the CSU. Northridge has had somewhat a unique approach to this in the past because of the number of individual ceremonies we have over the number of days in an outdoor setting,” Watkins said.

After considering both on and off campus options and exploring various ways in which the university can have fewer ceremonies while still including the Honors Convocation, and after consulting with a multitude of university leaders, the changes to the 2014 commencement ceremonies were finalized.

“The key consultation for these decisions was the executive leadership of the university, the president, the vice presidents and the deans. We consulted with the executive committee of the faculty senate and a focus group of students. Those were all of the people who provided input. At the end of the day, it was the president (Dianne Harrison) who decided this is the particular schedule that we’re going to go with, but she did that based upon a range of recommendations that were made to her,” Watkins said.

While Monday’s open forum gave students a platform to voice their concerns, some students don’t belive Associated Students did enough to communicate the changes.

Eric Martinez, 23, a senior majoring in biology, does not believe the open forum hosted by Associated Students will bring about change.

“I really don’t think the open forum is going to create any changes. It’s more procedural than anything. It’s so the university can assure themselves they gave us an open forum. It’s nine in the morning on a Monday during finals week and it’s also taking place post finalized changes. There should have been an open forum when this whole thing was first being discussed between students and the president,” Martinez said.

According to Woolett, Associated Students didn’t hold an open forum prior to Monday’s meeting because they wanted adequate time to inform students.

“The reason we waited until right now is because Dr. Watkins just told us two weeks ago what the changes are up until this point. We decided to have it today and not last week because we wanted to have a week to inform students, to properly market it via social media or we had some signs around campus. We didn’t want to rush it and have a fewer crowd.”

Woolett also said that while he wishes Associated Students could have done more to make students more aware of the changes, certain policies and regulations kept them from doing so.

“We can only send two emails a year to the general student population. This could have been one of them but we used both those emails for elections. We try to find avenues to really communicate with students but we have certain rules we have to follow,” Woolett said.

Kari Costanza, a senior majoring in recreation and tourism management who works for the CSUN University Corporation, feels student input was disregarded in the decision making process.

“My roommate who is part of Associated Students came home practically fuming about these changes and she was concerned about all the people she has to disinvite to commencement. I think what made us both the most upset was that the administration and board in charge of the changes never asked students for their opinions,” Costazna said.

A new ticketing system

One of the biggest changes and the biggest concerns for students is the new ticketing system that will require each guest to have a ticket in order to have a seat and enter a commencement ceremony. Each graduating student will be allotted four tickets and two parking passes for their guests, both free of charge. While a CSUN graduate does not need a ticket to attend their own commencement, they do need one if they want to attend another CSUN commencement ceremony that is not their own.

“Every campus that has gone to ticketing has had to cross this bridge. Here at Cal State Northridge the evidence is that we have preserved an open commencement experience virtually longer than anyone else and we’re at a point right now where given some of these issues about the size of our growing classes and as more and more students graduate over time the numbers are just going to grow, so it was inevitable that we would have to introduce some strategy for being able to manage the numbers of individuals so that there is a seat for everybody who comes,” Watkins said.

Although he does agree that change to commencement needs to be done, Woolett doesn’t think that combining college ceremonies is the best way to attain better safety measures in terms of controlling the mass amounts of people attending commencement exercises.

“Ticketing specifically is the one that is hard for me to wrap my mind around but so is combining colleges, especially if they want to lessen the impact of people at each venue,” he said.

While he feels the decision was one that could not be prolonged any longer, Watkins is aware of the hard situation students have now been put in by having to choose certain guests to attend their commencement exercises.

“I want students to understand that we’ve all thought about what sacrifices are being made here and what is being given up in the interest of having a more controlled context where people will be able to come and they will be able to have a seat. We really do aspire to have a framework that says for everybody who has a ticket, they’re going to have a seat. We are going to plan for you and make sure that your experience and the experience of the graduates is one that has the proper decorum about it and meets everybody’s expectations,” Watkins said.

Jaylen Ross, a 21-year-old graduating senior majoring in marketing who is the first to graduate college in his family, said having to chose only four guests to come to commencement would mean excluding individuals who played an intricate part in his college career.

“My dad went to college for two years and had to drop out to support us, so I’m the first to be on this road to graduation and I really wanted all my family to be there. I have a brother and sister who need to come. But there’s this woman who paid for my first semester of college because I didn’t have enough money at the time and for me to not invite her because I can only have my four family members come is ridiculous,” Ross said.

Due to the four ticket limitation per person, Watkins said having parking passes was a necessary component.

“Every student gets two parking permits and that’s of course to make sure that there is sufficient parking given the number of folks we are going to have. Because we are increasing the venue capacity from what is about 9,000 to 10,500 there’s going to be more people around here so we’re going to use parking permits for entry into our parking structure and we’re going to be strongly encouraging carpooling,” Watkins said.

Whether graduates will be able to request extra parking passes is a decision that is still pending.

Upper Division I Senator for Associated Students Sebastian Taborda, who will be graduating in spring 2014, does not support the new ticketing system.

“This affects me as a student because I have a big family and I don’t want any limitations on the parking or on the tickets especially because I have a lot of friends who will be happy to be at my commencement. I don’t think this is going to be a big benefit for the students, quite the contrary,” Taborda said.

The decision to allow each graduate to bring four students was a decision that was based purely on how many guests can fit on the Oviatt Lawn.

“The only way that we we’re able to group these colleges together and reduce the total number of ceremonies and have seats, was to introduce the use of tickets. Four tickets is the number of tickets we can distribute at the largest ceremony,” Watkins said.

Graduating senior Sandra Bram, 22, said that she is upset because the four tickets being allotted to each graduating student is not fair, especially because she has family coming from out of state just to see her graduate.

“The ticketing thing is complete bullshit. I have a big family and a lot of my family from New York is coming so four tickets is not even realistic for me. Four tickets can’t even cover a quarter of my family. What am I supposed to say? Am I supposed to tell the rest of my family not to come?” Bram said.

According to Watkins, students actually preferred to receive four tickets instead of five so they could have their commencement on the Oviatt Lawn.

“At one time we were talking about having five tickets, but the only way we could do that was to have the ceremonies up in North Field by the grass area north of Redwood Hall and so it would not have been at Oviatt Lawn. I said to the students, ‘Would you prefer five tickets and go to North Field or four tickets and be in the center of campus?’ And it was just a no brainer, hands down. People want to continue to experience that quad area on the Oviatt Lawn and all that it’s meant to the university over the years that we’ve been using it,” Watkins said.

Natalie Zohar, 23, a graduating senior majoring in communications, said that after six years of paying for her costly college education, her graduation ceremony should not be allowed to be restricted in the number of guests she can bring.

“With today’s society of divorced parents and extended family, I believe it is impossible to have your support system congratulating you on this big accomplishment with only four tickets. I have been waiting for this moment for six years and I would like my family members and close friends to share this important day in my life,” Zohar said.

Each commencement ceremony that will be taking place at the Oviatt Lawn can hold 10,500 guests. It is only if a particular college commencement ceremony has extra seats available and unclaimed tickets that a student may be eligible to receive two extra tickets.

“Tickets that are not requested will be available to graduates who are in need of additional tickets to accommodate their guests. Some of the extra available tickets will be dependent upon the number of graduates in each college. So for example, Social and Behavioral Sciences and Science and Math is going to be the largest ceremony. But there is another combination which is the smallest, and so in that configuration there will probably be an excess of seats available to those students who are in those small college configurations than those who are part of the largest,” Watkins said.

While some students could possibly be eligible to receive two extra tickets once they are on a waiting list, students do not think the new regulations are fair.

Senior Ariella Baharbar, a 22-year-old finance major believes that the new ticketing system will discourage students from attending graduation.

“I understand that they are ticketing to make it more efficient, but it doesn’t seem that any of the students actually had a say in the whole ticketing decision and it’s kind of ridiculous now that they are going to give each student only four tickets,” Baharbar said.

Furthermore, Baharbar said that four tickets is not enough for her entire family.

International student Danielle Adler, a CSUN senior originally from Brazil, is especially unhappy that she is limited to bringing four guests because she pays extra fees at CSUN for not being a resident of California.

“Before I could have brought my family and friends, now I can only choose four people. I pay a lot of money as a foreign student, so I think there should be at least eight guests allowed,” Adler said.

To ensure that tickets will be used and collected properly, Watkins said there will be a heavy security presence at commencement this year than there has been in the past.

“There will be more than ample security. We will have more security given the size and scope of this and we will be bringing on more than we have in the past. There will be no sneaking in. If you’re going to use tickets as a method of ensuring that individuals are entering the venue and have a seat available to them, we need to adjust and adapt to the practice of doing that and it would undermine that practice to distribute tickets and not collect them. So that process will actually clearly happen,” Watkins said.

However, Demontray Thompson, a finance major who will be graduating in fall 2014, believes that students will bring guests even without a ticket, and therefore will create even more safety issues.

“There might be even more of a safety hazard because people will try to come without having tickets. People are still going to come out even if they have to stand by the police who say they need to have a ticket to come in,” Thompson said.

Furthermore, Thompson believes that President Harrison’s goal to have CSUN shine cannot fully be implemented with the use of tickets.

“I know the president wants us to shine, that’s one of her initiatives, but in order for people to see us shine we need to make sure that students, parents and guardians and friends and family are able to see us shine on our commencement day,” Thompson said.

Combined college ceremonies

In compliance with President Harrison’s requests to reduce the number of commencement ceremonies, this year’s commencement exercises will consist of two colleges in each ceremony, resulting in four total ceremonies as opposed to eight separate ones in previous years.

“Each of the ceremonies now has two colleges and the grouping of the colleges has to do with our best prediction as to which colleges we could put together and have enough seating for the graduates and their guests for those colleges. We believe the largest ceremony is going to be with the social and behavioral sciences. It has historically been our largest graduating class and so we have combined that ceremony with the science and math college, which has historically been the smallest. When we thought about how many seats we have to have, clearly it was how many seats does it take to fit social and behavioral sciences and science and math ceremonies,” Watkins said.

The Honors Convocation ceremony, which as of now has not required ticket distribution, will take place on Friday, May 16 at 6 p.m., while the four other commencement ceremonies will take place on Monday, May 19 and Thursday, May 22.

The final schedule for the 2014 Commencement ceremonies are as follows:

The College of Business and Economics and the College of Engineering and Computer Science will take place Monday, May 19, 2014 at 8 a.m. followed by the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communications and College of Humanities Commencement at 6 p.m.

Commencement ceremonies will conclude on Thursday, May 22, beginning with the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Science and Mathematics at 8 a.m., followed by the commencement ceremony for the College of Health and Human Development and the Michael D. Eisner College of Education at 6 p.m.

Taborda does not believe the proposed idea of college commencement ceremonies being combined will be beneficial for the students or their families.

“I went to a friend’s commencement at Cal State LA last year and it was 10,000 people and we didn’t see him and his family was upset. He was the first generation in his family to get a degree so that special moment was big for the family. Having that combined commencement wasn’t a good decision on behalf of Cal State LA,” Taborda said.

Although combined commencement ceremonies inevitably means ceremonies will be longer and between two and three hours, Watkins said the length of each commencement exercise is dependent upon the name readers.

“The speed of a commencement exercise is very significantly affected by the cadence and the speed of the name reading. We will have two name callers because students will come up on either side of the stage. If you have slow name readers you are going to be there a while, but our goal is going to be to get the best name readers at every ceremony,” Watkins said.

Blanca Martinez, a 20-year-old junior and political science major who sits on the Associated Students Judicial Board said she feels the changes to commencement are unjust and have been given without enough time for students to voice their opinion.

“I think it’s ridiculous and it’s too short of notice. I think they are trying to put a limit on our achievements, which is absurd. If I didn’t sit on an Associated Students judicial court then I wouldn’t even know about these changes. It’s the fact that there is absolutely no warning about it, it feels like they are trying to sneak it under the rug and it’s not fair. You accommodate 30,000 students everyday at this university, how can you really say you can’t accommodate graduate and their contiguities?” Martinez said.

In previous years, each dean of each college devised their own commencement script centered around that particular college. Due to the combination colleges at commencement this year, Watkins said the commencement scripts will be altered to focus more on the institution.

“Each commencement ceremony script will be revised to provide a focus on the university as a whole while also recognizing each college and its graduates. In the most recent format, every dean from every college created their own script but it was more of a focus on a college,” Watkins said.

While they may have to write a different script, Watkins said the college deans are ready for the new combined ceremonies.

“The deans have been knowledgeable of every facet of this plan. They have been briefed several times and they are fully prepared to execute the approved plan. When it comes to change at Northridge, we express our opinion about things and once we decide to do something, then we’re focused on implanting it,” Watkins said.

What stays the same

While a new ticketing system and combined college commencement ceremonies are major changes that will be taking place in 2014, there a few elements of commencement that will remain unaltered.

Even though ceremonies will be longer in length, Watkins ensures that the tradition of each student’s name being called as they walk across the stage will continue.

“We did contemplate not calling students’ names. We considered if there would be an off campus venue where we could have one whole commencement ceremony. In an environment like that you’re probably just having everyone stand up and their degree is conferred and that’s it, there is no name calling. We went all the way from a model of that kind to finding a model that took advantage of the beauty of the Oviatt Lawn site and what has been so important to our graduates, which we know is the personal recognition. We’re happy we were able to preserve that,” Watkins said.

Individual college receptions will also continue to be held this year, despite the actual commencement ceremonies being combined.

“There will still be receptions for each college either before or after the commencement ceremonies. There will be a committee to later plan details of this, but it is his hoped that each college still gets it’s own reception. We will work to figure out where each graduate from each college will go,” Watkins said.

Lastly, for individuals who cannot make it in person to commencement or who cannot get a ticket, Watkins said the university will continue to stream its live webcast of each commencement exercise.

“We want to let individuals know that if they have individuals who they want to see the event but who they don’t have a ticket for or otherwise maybe they are on the east or west coast, then they could go online and see it streamed. The video of that will be online and available for a few days after the commencement ceremonies,” Watkins said.

As more changes are finalized, the university will continue to send updates to students. Please visit the CSUN commencement website for more information and continued updates.

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