Likins restores Dec. commencement

By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Ceremony returns after agreement to improve behavior of students

President Peter Likins announced the restoration of the December university-wide commencement ceremony yesterday, after reaching an agreement with student body president Alistair Chapman.

But as a condition for restoring the university-wide commencement, Likins said he expects a change in behavior at the ceremony.

While administration officials said the elimination of the university-wide commencement was intended to create a more intimate commencement ceremony, they admitted that disruptive behavior was also a factor.

"ASUA President Alistair Chapman and I agreed today on the changes of behavior that will be expected for the restoration of the university-wide Winter Commencement," Likins said in an e-mail sent to employees and students yesterday.

Two weeks ago, university officials announced December's university-wide commencement would be limited to Ph.D and master's students.

The cancellation of the university-wide ceremony prompted an overwhelmingly negative response from the campus community, with student leaders and alumni groups speaking out against the changes.

Following last week's ASUA Town Hall, which gave students, staff, and alumni the opportunity to voice their opinions on the commencement changes, Chapman wrote a letter to Likins Friday, urging him to restore the university-wide commencement.

Chapman said Likins agreed to meet with him yesterday to discuss commencement concerns - specifically, the role students will have to play in the restoration of commencement.

After receiving feedback from the community, Likins said he learned people value a university-wide commencement, but they do not appreciate disruptive behavior.

"We understand that perfection is not a reasonable early expectation," Likins and Chapman wrote in a memo to the community. "But we expect to see real progress."

Chapman said reaching this goal requires the cooperation of every student, parent, and guest at commencement.

"What we're looking for is a significant improvement in the decorum of the event," Chapman said.

During the ASUA Town Hall, the practice of tortilla-throwing was cited as inappropriate behavior at graduation.

Traditionally, some UA graduates and audience members have thrown tortillas during the university-wide graduation ceremony.

But in the past, Likins said that behavior is offensive to the Native-Americans and Mexican-Americans and also disrespectful to guest speakers.

In order to reduce problematic behavior at graduation, Chapman said he will create a Commencement Advisory Board, which he will chair, to discuss specific problems at graduation and devise reasonable solutions.

"While I'm extremely happy, I also feel an enormous amount of pressure," Chapman said. "You take a certain risk in bringing (commencement) back in December."

The university-wide commencement ceremony will take place Dec. 18 in the McKale Center, while individual college convocations will continue as planned.

Chapman said if student behavior does not improve at the December university-wide commencement ceremony, future commencement ceremonies could be cancelled.

Nonetheless, Chapman said the ASUA forum was successful as it gave students an opportunity to be involved in discussions.

"It's really awesome that we got it back, especially for students," Chapman said. "But it's also the beginning of a lot of work."