Today, members of the Barnard class of 2017 received a parcel of unfortunate news from Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson at Barnard Commencement rehearsal: Due to unavoidable scheduling conflicts, former President Debora Spar can no longer attend our graduation ceremony.
Conveniently, as of this evening, Spar's name has been scrubbed from the commencement website. Indeed, there are some things that can be erased, like a name from a website. There are also some things that are indelible, like someone's commitment to an academic institution that they've worked at for the past nine years.
While I can’t speak on behalf of my fellow graduates, I was greatly disheartened by the news. Many students who had been discomfited by Spar’s sudden departure and replacement by Rob Goldberg, a male interim president, were at least looking forward to celebrating their graduation with the president they actually knew throughout their time at Barnard. Simply put, it is demoralizing that the president we knew will not be with us as we process down the stage of Radio City Music Hall and collect our diplomas.
It is unfortunate that Barnard’s 125th Commencement will take place on a weekday. Wednesdays are often the most stressful day of the week. That being said, it is also unfortunate that Barnard College’s president announced her sudden departure from Morningside Heights mere months before the end of the school year.
But here’s something that is even more unfortunate: Barnard seniors were informed of Spar’s absence two days before Barnard Commencement—not through Spar herself, but through a quick announcement by Dean Hinkson.
Plans for Barnard Commencement—a 2-hour and 15-minute ceremony that will take place a short 11-minute cab ride away from Lincoln Center—have been public for some time. I don’t know much about Spar’s schedule, but given her previous commitment to attending the ceremony and the fact that we’re just hearing about her scheduling conflicts now, her absence feels like an even bigger slap in the face than her resignation.
Still, I suppose scheduling conflicts are scheduling conflicts, and I recognize that there is probably no way that Spar’s busy agenda can be altered so close to graduation day.
I’m not hoping for Spar to jump out of a giant cake during Barnard Commencement. Instead, I’m hoping for an explanation from Spar herself—not Dean Hinkson. I’m hoping for a message of goodwill, a recognition of our time at Barnard College, and maybe, just maybe, sincere congratulations from the woman who led our administration during our time here.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in political science and East Asian studies. She is a former editorial page editor and columnist for Spectator and the former president of Columbia University Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. God willing, this is her final op-ed for Spectator as an undergraduate!
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