Committee debates Commencement move

A Commencement committee, initiated by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, will explore both the new downtown MCI Center as an alternative to the graduation ceremony held on the Ellipse and ways to cut costs from the weekend celebration.

“As GW looks to structure a more frugal budget . and to be more moderate in tuition hikes, everything is on the table,” Trachtenberg said.

The 30-person committee, which includes four students, will address issues surrounding Commencement for this year and beyond. It will forward a plan to Trachtenberg by early January with its recommendations, Student Association President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar said.

Golparvar said the committee’s canvassing of the GW community will consist of several public forums as well as a Commencement e-mail address, to which members of the University community can send comments.

“That feedback will virtually be instituted as a final decision (by Trachtenberg),” Golparvar said.

The first organizational meeting laid out a structure driven heavily by student input, he said.

But Justen Bennett-MacCubbin, a senior who is on the committee, said he doubts the importance student input will play.

“Their intentions and mindsets are more to convince and persuade the student body (of the benefits of Commencements at the MCI Center) than to listen to (students’) voices,” Bennett-MacCubbin said.

He said he believes Golparvar and other students on the Committee are mere props of the administration.

The University is aware of student opinion on the Commencement issue and the committee is little more than smoke and mirrors, Bennett-MacCubbin said.

Mike Freedman, director of public affairs, said student input will play into the decision,

“This is a daunting task, but Trachtenberg has made it explicit to us that no decision will be made until the voice of the community is heard,” Freedman said.

Last week, the committee established a timetable and four sub-committees. The group is planning a series of discussions and public forums intended to implement a cost-effective strategy, attempting to streamline what has become a half-million dollar weekend of graduation festivities, said John Jenkins, associate dean of GW Law School and chairman of the committee.

“We’ll be prioritizing the desires of the community and comparing them with available funds. This is not a facade,” Jenkins said.

“In our attempts to eliminate waste and keep tuition down, Commencement can’t be excluded from price concerns . not when there’s a half million dollars at stake,” Freedman said. “We’re going to look at everything from the individual school ceremonies and receptions to the Saturday night gala at Union Station, right through to Sunday’s graduation ceremony.”

For example, the committee will address the $200,000 backup plan installed after a lightening storm canceled the ceremony in 1995.

“In 1995, people said never again, but Trachtenberg said we’re going back,” Freedman said.

Hundreds of families that year “went away hurt and angry with little tolerance for explanations after the fact,” Freedman said, and added that Trachtenberg still receives mail from angry individuals.

The high cost of a backup plan led some University administrators to speculate last year that the ceremony might be permanently moved indoors, possibly to the new MCI Center, to reduce expense, Freedman said.

But he said, “Trachtenberg is first in line to defend Commencement on the Ellipse.”

Trachtenberg is credited with the original idea of a unified Commencement on the Ellipse, which replaced the ceremonies for individual schools in 1992, Freedman said.

The committee must now balance the cost of the Commencement with either graduation fees or the end of ceremonies on the Ellipse, Freedman said.

“It might just come down to whether people are willing to pay,” Freedman said.

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