Committee members listen during town hall

The chair of the Commencement committee said he is not a betting man, but he is “willing to bet you that Commencement is going to be on the Ellipse this spring.”

John Jenkins, associate dean of the GW Law School and chair of the committee, was among several committee members who heard students’ opinions at Tuesday’s Commencement town hall meeting in Funger Hall.

Mike Freedman, GW’s director of public affairs, said after the meeting that the discussion had reinforced his thinking that Commencement on the Ellipse is something students really look forward to. But he said he is unwilling to make any promises about what the committee’s final recommendation will be.

“The committee must be allowed to complete its work . it can’t abandon its charge from (GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg),” Freedman said. “They will take the things that were said tonight very seriously.”

Freedman said two to three more student forums could lie ahead for the committee.

Lynn Shipway, special assistant in the office of University Special Events, said an application has been filed with the National Park Service to reserve the Ellipse for May 17, and that a meeting will likely be scheduled in January with Park Service officials to determine the specifics of the spring event.

“GW is taking steps to proceed with Commencement on the Ellipse,” Shipway said.

“I don’t think anyone in the administration doubts the level of interest for graduation on the Ellipse, but I don’t know what a majority of the students think,” she said. “Certainly there is a strong feeling on the part of some very articulate students.”

“However, it’s not for me to say that we weren’t persuaded. It’s for the committee to decide,” Shipway added.

The committee will meet Friday and various subcommittees will present their reports, Jenkins said.

According to Rhoda Fischer, special assistant to the president, Trachtenberg, who was out of town and did not attend the meeting, is determined to keep an arm’s length from the committee’s decision.

He expects the committee’s recommendation early next year, she said.

At Tuesday’s forum, students questioned whether GW admissions brochures that proclaim, “You will graduate in the backyard of the White House” would constitute a breach of contract if the Commencement ceremony was moved from the Ellipse.

“Those pamphlets contain a long list of . options for students,” said Walter Bortz, GW vice president for administrative and information services. “I don’t necessarily think GW is contractually obligated to ensure that students receive those opportunities,” he added.

“Nobody in the administration is in the business of upsetting students,” Bortz said. “But we are paid to make hard decisions.”

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