The two sides of SJT

On Friday afternoon, the University’s Commencement committee held a public meeting to discuss, once again, the pros and cons of finding a new location for next spring’s ceremony.

At the meeting, committee Chair John Jenkins distributed a letter from GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to the parents of a GW student who wrote to the University about the proposed relocation of Commencement. The letter was proof positive that there are two SJTs.

One SJT told everyone who attended last year’s Commencement ceremony how much he loved holding the event on the Ellipse. But the other SJT – the one who wrote the letter – says the money the University will save by holding the event in the MCI Center could be used to fund things that $20,000 in tuition can’t pay for.

Which is the real Trachtenberg?

Trachtenberg said the money saved by moving Commencement to the MCI Center comes to $250,000 – about one-half the cost of an Ellipse Commencement and the accompanying activities. According to his letter, that money could be used to “provide library books and computers and scholarships and all sorts of good things.”

But whenever a question arises about the costs and benefits of an MCI Center ceremony, administrators issue a standard reply: “We don’t know.” That is not an acceptable answer.

How can University officials continue to tout the financial benefits of the MCI Center without providing concrete figures to support their statements?

According to the committee’s report, the costs of holding the event on the Ellipse – plus the costs of other Commencement weekend activities – adds up to more than $580,000. The $50 Commencement fee charged to graduates covers about $180,000 of that cost. Last year’s backup plan cost almost $20,000. Without knowing what the MCI Center will cost, how can Trachtenberg assert that a move would amount to $250,000 in savings?

By giving different answers to different people, Trachtenberg complicates this complex matter even more. If he wants to make a unilateral decision on the ceremony’s location, he should do it. But if he continues to insist that people view the Commencement committee as independent, he should stop making statements that students can interpret as foreshadowing a final decision. Complete openness and honesty are integral to the decision-making process, but they can come from only one place – the GW administration.

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