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Dean March addresses commencement rumors

<p>A student rejoices during the 2012 commencement ceremony at the High Point Solutions Stadium.</p>

A student rejoices during the 2012 commencement ceremony at the High Point Solutions Stadium.

No individual department convocations are being canceled and no statement has been issued to prevent departments from holding independent celebrations to honor graduates, said Kara Donaldson, associate dean of Planning and Communications at Rutgers.

Rachel Battaglia, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, started a change.org petition yesterday calling on Executive Dean Peter March of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Rutgers administration to “keep departmental graduations in their original locations and reconsider the recent decision to eliminate individual departmental graduations, which relocates them to the stadium,” according to the petition.

The petition states the decision was not decided on by students, faculty or department heads, but was instead made “behind closed doors.”

Next May, the School of Arts and Sciences will hold a convocation ceremony following the University commencement, March said. Every school other than the School of Arts and Sciences, including the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the School of Engineering, has a convocation event.

“Why should [the School of Arts and Sciences] be different from other schools?” March asked.

Prior to this coming commencement day, individual departments, like the Department of Political Science and the Department of History, held convocation events on the same day as the University-wide commencement, March said. 

This is complicated logistically in terms of transportation and public safety, March said. The departments have been asked to hold their individual convocation ceremonies on a different day than the University commencement, which will dramatically decrease transportation issues.

“The departments that wish to will continue to have department-level celebrations of their students, they just will not be on the commencement day,” he said.

March is trying to start a new tradition in which all School of Arts and Sciences students will be recognized together in the stadium, Donaldson said. Students will shake hands with the dean, as they can continue to do at their individual department’s ceremonies.

These ceremonies, which often feature students or alumni as speakers and recognize students who have received honors, can continue to do all of that, Donaldson said, just not on the same day as the University commencement.

The idea to create a School of Arts and Sciences convocation ceremony came after March was approached by the University secretary’s office, through which all commencement planning occurs, March said.

The office offered him the option to use the stadium to create a single convocation event for the School of Arts and Sciences.

The School of Arts and Sciences convocation is in the planning stages, March said. He is working with a task force made up of four students and four staff members, including Donaldson and himself.

About 4,000 School of Arts and Sciences students are expected at the convocation ceremony following the University-wide commencement. Though it is not feasible to read each student’s name, March said they would use technology to visually recognize students.

Chris Retzko, manager of Special Events and Programs at Rutgers and assistant secretary of the University, said he is the planner for University commencement. 

For the School of Arts and Sciences convocation, Retzko is looking to use software that will enable him to put information up on the screen in High Point Solutions Stadium about each student.

“It could have a picture. We’re looking to connect it with live video. It would have students’ names, pictures, hometowns, honors — really anything that we’d want to put up there we can explore how it would work and try to keep it in a fast-paced and readable format,” Retzko said.

This is the first year that this technology could possibly be incorporated in the ceremony. Aside from moving the ceremony along at an organized pace, it allows the ceremony to be more personal.

Francine Glaser, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and the school’s senator-at-large of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, said she heard from a student in the Department of Genetics, who heard from the vice chair of that department, that department’s individual ceremonies were being canceled.

Glaser also checked with her own advisor, who also confirmed that statement.

Glaser, who is also the undergraduate representative to the Board of Trustees, said the whole event seems to have been one big miscommunication, and that if it is true that March is only asking the departments to move their individual convocations and not cancel them, that could make things more efficient.

“I think specifically having different graduations on different days or at least different hours of the day, if they were over the course of two or maybe three days, that would be fine as well,” she said.

Though that is what Glaser personally believes, she would need to see what her constituents — the students of Rutgers — think about having graduation ceremonies over a period of multiple days.

March is planning to meet with undergraduates on the Board of Trustees who have reached out to express concern about what they thought was the cancellation of individual convocation ceremonies. 

He hopes to communicate with the Rutgers community so a clear discussion can take place.

Glaser said though the task force that March created does include students, it should have included students elected by other students.

“If you’re going to make decisions about commencement, no matter how big or small, there should be some shared governance,” she said.

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