Seniors at the School of General Studies are continuing to grapple with the consequences of the recent change in the date of their Class Day ceremony, as student leaders and administrators debate how best to accommodate seniors’ friends and families.
On Monday, GS Dean Peter Awn said that Class Day will take place on May 13, a day earlier than originally scheduled, and will overlap with the Baccalaureate Service, where several GS students are scheduled to speak. The change is due to the security measures being taken for President Barack Obama, CC ’83, who is speaking at Barnard’s commencement later that day. The arrangements would have required GS students and their guests to arrive at 5:30 a.m. to pass through a security checkpoint.
On Tuesday night, the General Studies Student Council held a town hall in which students and council members voiced their frustrations about the change, which comes within a few weeks of the ceremony and will force many guests to modify their travel plans.
In a display of unity among the undergraduate colleges, student leaders from Barnard, Columbia College, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, including several student council members, released a statement early Wednesday morning calling on the University to hold a graduation event for GS—paid for by the Columbia and Barnard administrations—during the originally scheduled time frame, and to issue a formal apology.
Barnard President Debora Spar said that a “modest fund” that she established along with Awn and University President Lee Bollinger should help attenuate the financial impact of the rescheduling.
“We hope that the fund established to assist seniors and their families to offset additional expenses provides some relief. We also hope to be as helpful as we can, given the constraints under which we are all operating,” Spar said.
According to Anna O’Sullivan, assistant director of communications at GS, the school has already processed several requests and started disbursing monies from the fund to students whose families will incur additional expenses to attend Class Day.
“Individuals are allocated funding based upon need so for now it’s premature to provide totals,” O’Sullivan wrote in an email.
In a statement released Wednesday night, the University said that much of the reaction to the rescheduling was “misinformation” and stressed the difficult of moving the ceremony to a different campus site. Some students had suggested Barnard’s campus or Wien Stadium at Baker Field.
“We find the resulting inconvenience to graduating General Studies students and their families deeply regrettable, and we are committed to helping ensure that they do not have to bear the financial cost of this change in order to accommodate the unique aspects of presidential logistics for Barnard’s ceremony,” the statement read.
Engineering Student Council Vice President of Policy Logan Donovan, SEAS ’13—who co-authored the student statement with Barry Weinberg, CC ’12 and former Student Governing Board chair—created a Change.org petition on Wednesday expressing support from all the undergraduate schools for GS seniors. As of early Thursday morning, the petition had 469 signatures.
GSSC President Jacqueline Thong, GS ’12, said she met with Awn on Wednesday to present the council’s resolution, survey data, and student comments to Office of the President and the Dean of Students.
“We are turning our attention to reaching out to students to help them in any way we can to help them cope with the changes, which includes pointing them to use the travel reimbursement fund, or to help match them with students that offered their homes as lodging for out of town guests,” Thong said.
The senior class council is working with the deans to get student feedback on a celebratory event. Thong said that it would likely take place at an off-campus venue.
The Engineering Student Council is making a website, similar to its ticket exchange site for Commencement, to list people who are willing to host family members of GS students inconvenienced by the change. Jim Huang, SEAS ’12—who is spearheading the effort with Mailing Wu, ESC senior class vice president—said that the council is hoping to have the website ready by Friday.
“A GS student who knew about our Commencement Ticket Exchange suggested the idea to us,” Huang wrote in an email. “We felt that the website was easy enough to adapt from our own, so we took on the job independently of the other councils.”
Still, some student council members said that they had yet to decide on any additional measures in support of GS seniors.
“We’re still exploring a lot of possible options,” Donovan said. “There’s just a lot of people to talk to and a lot of logistics to work out and a lot of things going on. It all came up very quickly.”
Aki Terasaki, CC ’12 and president of Columbia College Student Council, said the council had also not decided on how it would help alleviate the costs for GS families. “There are different options but we haven’t decided anything official at this point.”
Jessica Blank, BC ’12 and president of Barnard’s Student Government Association, said that the SGA will make a decision on further action once GSSC has decided how it will proceed.
“We’re sympathetic to their circumstances and we want to support them however we can,” Blank said.
Blank said that GSSC approached SGA about holding the ceremony on Barnard’s campus but that they could not fulfill the request.
“GSSC asked if Barnard space was being used that day and we looked into it and we found that unfortunately there are receptions being held across campus in all the large major spaces on campus, so that wouldn’t allow for them to hold their commencement on Barnard’s campus,” she said.
Weinberg encouraged all students to express their solidarity with GS students more openly but added that it is unclear what student leaders will do next to address the issue.
“That sort of remains to be seen,” he said. “We probably can’t and shouldn’t ourselves. GS students sort of have to decide what they want and we can’t make their decision for them. Anything that we can do to make what they want happen.”
Lillian Chen contributed reporting.