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Administration wants increased faculty presence at graduation

November 10, 2011

By Howard Primer

Alex Heier is set to graduate from Cleveland State in December with honors in criminology and sociology.

When he walks across the stage at the Wolstein Center as the first college graduate in his family, he’s hoping to see more than loved ones and classmates in the audience.

“Yes, I would like to see my professors there,” said Heier, who is a member of two fraternities and works at the Tutoring and Academic Success Center. “It would be respectful of the students who went to their classes and put the work and thousands of dollars into one of the biggest moments of their lives.”

The previous contract between the university and CSU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors called for 25 percent of faculty to attend each of CSU’s two graduation ceremonies each year.

The clause was taken out of the three-year contract signed this fall at the administration’s request. Provost Geoffrey S. Mearns said the number of faculty who attend graduation shouldn’t be contractually negotiated.

“I don’t know if we were meeting that number,” Mearns said. “But that number seems too low to me, the deans, the president and the Board of Trustees. The board has actually spoken somewhat vocally on the issue.”

CSU-AAUP president Jeff Karem said seeing more professors at graduation should only be a matter of working out logistics such as renting or purchasing regalia, and having clearer directions for the 2½ hour ceremony.

“They want more attendance, I think everybody does,” Karem said. “From year to year, there is some variability in how it’s managed. That can get more people returning, so people don’t show up and feel lost.”

According to CSU’s commencement guidebook, renting regalia can cost up to $92. Mearns said the provost’s office will cover rental fees for the December commencement if colleges do not have adequate funding.

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Associate Dean of Faculty William R. Morgan said previous graduates have shown the same sentiment as Heier in wanting to see faculty on their big day.

“They all want to see their professors,” Morgan said. “It’s a nice reminder (to the faculty) of a job well-done. You might see someone who was struggling and know that you helped that person make it through.”

Mearns said he’s looking into ideas to increase participation.

“I would prefer not talk about specific ones until I have a better understanding of what the causes are,” Mearns said. “Part of it is speaking to the faculty and communicating that this is an important event. I want to understand from them why they don’t share my view that it’s an important part of our relationship with our students and their families.”
Karem, an assistant professor of English, defended the faculty.

“I like to go to commencement,” he said. “Most of the faculty in my department are pro-commencement.”

Students are free to attend, or not attend, graduation.

Morgan said that shouldn’t be the case with professors. “We live in a democratic society,” he said. “Some are turned off by the idea of a formal ceremony. But faculty are on salary. They’re no longer students.  It’s a professional responsibility we all understand.”

Morgan added that he doesn’t expect it to come down to needing extra motivation to see more professors at one of the most sacred events on the academic calendar.

“I can’t imagine it being a big issue,” he said.