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Wednesday May 9, 2001

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Graduation process will be re-evaluated in the fall

By Maya Schechter

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Seniors with summer credits to make up can walk in this weekend's ceremonies

Gino Duran is proud to say he will participate in Saturday's commencement - something just a few weeks ago, he didn't think would happen.

When Duran, a political science senior, met with his adviser earlier this semester, he was told that although he had six foreign language units to complete during the summer, he would still be recognized in the May commencement.

But Duran's excitement quickly turned into frustration when the same adviser told him he would not be able to participate in the graduation ceremony.

"My adviser said the dean of students was making all advisers stick to the university's policy of not letting students graduate if they haven't finished all their units," said Duran, who also served as an Associated Students senator this semester.

Duran's only option for having a "real graduation" was to complete his units during the summer and then participate in the December commencement.

"If everything works out the way it's supposed to, I should be starting my new job in San Diego in September," he said. "For me to come back to Tucson in December is just ridiculous."

Duran continued to meet with his adviser on a weekly basis in hopes that the possibility of graduating in May would come through - and to his amazement, it did.

What Duran didn't know was that a fellow student government member played a large role in the university allowing students who would complete their units in August to participate in the May commencement.

"I'm graduating because of him..."

A number of UA students set to complete their graduation requirements in August approached Erick Negri, then-ASUA executive vice president, in January and expressed their frustrations with not being recognized in the May commencement.

"I started talking to degree-check advisers to find out exactly what was going on and I found out the university has always had this policy," he said. "But the advisers didn't agree with it so they were submitting the students' names as eligible to (graduate) in May."

Negri then spent two months working with several administrators toward changing the policy. He said that the university's expectation that August graduates return to Tucson in December is unrealistic because those students may be busy with their new jobs, or won't have the financial resources to travel to the UA.

The administrators' argument, Negri said, was that students who have not completed their requirements should not be recognized in a ceremony. They were concerned that students who participated in the May commencement would never finish their units.

"I didn't believe either side was necessarily wrong, but when you have that many students upset, you know it's an issue to deal with," Negri said.

Following spring break, the administrators decided they would recognize August candidates in the May commencement program, but it would be a one-time solution for this year only.

While the idea of an August commencement was addressed as a solution, Negri said, each ceremony costs about $25,000 - not including charges for security, parking and flowers.

"It only costs about $1 for each commencement program - it would be much cheaper for the university to add those 800 August graduates in the program than to have a whole other ceremony," he said.

"Having your name in a commencement program won't get you a job or prove that you've completed college - that's what a diploma and transcript is for," he said, which is why he thought printing the students names should not meet much opposition in the future.

Administrators said they would re-evaluate the situation next year to see if the additional students actually completed their requirements, Negri said.

"I'm happy to see the solution for now, but what will happen to students next year? I'm worried that they will have to deal with the same situation again."

Because Negri is graduating this weekend, he said he anticipates that one of the ASUA senators would pick up where he left off to help future seniors. He told the senators about his progress at their weekly meeting on Wednesday, March 28 - which is when Duran found out that Negri directly had an effect on his graduation status.

"My adviser told me that someone had been working on changing the policy this semester, but I had no idea that it was Erick," Duran said after the meeting. "I'm graduating because of him - I am sure there are many students out there who are so grateful to him."

" questions the integrity of the graduation process..."

Negri had worked closely with Randall Richardson, interim vice president for undergraduate education, who strongly believes in the university's current policy.

"Graduating is when you have completed all your requirements - you can't call it a graduation ceremony when you still have to finish your classes," Richardson said.

Although he knows many of the August graduates do not return to Tucson to participate in the December graduation, he said it is the only fair solution.

"I don't think it's appropriate to list the names of students in the program if they have not graduated. It questions the integrity of the graduation process and for those students who deserve to walk," he said.

Richardson said that about 40 percent of the students who walk in the May commencement that have not "officially graduated," never finish their incomplete requirements.

He said this may be the last year those students would be recognized in the May commencement and the administrators would look at the results in the fall.

"We are put in an awkward position because we are not able to accurately verify that students will pass their classes and complete their requirements before the ceremony," he said. "But we are really trying to improve the system. The students need to make sure they are eligible at least one semester before they plan on graduating."

"Anyone can walk during the commencement ceremony if they want - we don't check for ID," Richardson said in reference to those students who wish to walk with their friends. "We never denied anyone the right to walk - it's just that their name wouldn't be in the program because they have not really graduated."

Richardson said he wasn't sure how students who are not eligible to graduate have been recognized in May - but he plans on making sure it doesn't happen again in the future.

"...we trust the students who say they'll complete their requirements..."

In addition to Negri meeting with the administration, two university advising groups have also spent a great amount of time pushing for a new graduation policy to be made.

The University Professional Adviser's Council - composed of university advisers - and the Coordinating Council for Academic and Student Affairs - several university administrators who oversee student services - developed an official memo, which was submitted to the university provost.

"We wanted to make a strong case to show that August candidates need to be recognized in the May commencement," said Paul Melendez, director of advising services in the Eller College of Business and Public Administration and co-chair of UPAC.

The business college has a 90 percent graduation rate, including those who walk in May and complete their requirements during the summer.

"We have such a tremendous success with graduation rates - (the business college) has always felt it was appropriate to recognize the August candidates in our own commencement ceremony," Melendez said.

"To deny a student from having a graduation ceremony just because they have two summer school classes is a shame," he added.

Melendez said it is important for students to see their names in the commencement program because it symbolizes closure and being a part of a community.

If students don't have a chance to participate in a graduation ceremony they could leave the university on a negative note, said Karen Weaver-Sommers, an adviser in the psychology department.

"It doesn't make sense to make the students angry - they are the ones who will someday give back to the university, which is one of the hopes of Campaign Arizona," she said.

Weaver-Sommers said there are rumors that the graduation process is manipulated by advisers - which she thinks are absolutely wrong.

"The system is not being manipulated at all, it's just that we trust the students who say they'll complete their requirements to really do that."

"...the current policy is an acceptable policy..."

Roby Schapira, former ASUA senator, said he would like to continue Negri's work next year and try to help the students as much as he can. He wants to find a permanent solution that everyone can agree on.

"(The administration) is making one last exception this year but that's unacceptable," he said. "Students deserve as many opportunities as possible to have that kind of closure after all the work they've put in."

Weaver-Sommers said students should begin their degree-checks as early as nine months before they plan on graduating to ensure they won't miss out on their commencement ceremony, in case the policy stays the same next year.

Hopefully some changes will be made, she added.

"I think the current policy is an acceptable policy between academic integrity and the students' interest," Richardson said. "But I'd like to look at other universities' policies and see if we can improve it so students can truly celebrate their graduation at the time they deserve it."