Students from the USC School of Social Work got together Thursday to air their grievances against their administration for abruptly changing the time and venue of their graduation ceremony, after an e-mail was accidentally sent to students by Dean Marilyn Flynn announcing the change.
The ceremony has been moved from 6 p.m., Friday, May 13 at the Shrine Auditorium, to 2 p.m. in an outside tent on campus to accommodate Jewish students and faculty who wish to observe Shabbat, a weekly day of rest beginning at sundown on Fridays.
Flynn’s e-mail, which was not supposed to go to students, stated that the School of Social Work did not originally “choose this option, because it is not air-conditioned, the sound is not particularly good, and it is simply less attractive from a ceremonial point of view.”
When students at the School of Social Work saw the e-mail, many were outraged.
“I respect Shabbat, but at the same time other religious events need to be taken into consideration as well,” said Danny Hang, a graduate student earning a dual degree from the School of Social Work and Davis School of Gerontology.
Students said they are not as upset about the change in venue or time as they are about the lack of equality for all students at a secular institution.
“I understand that point of view,” Flynn said, “But I would also say that in a very diverse school we have a lot of hard decisions to make. This is my decision. This is how I decided to resolve the conflict as I understood it. Not everybody will agree with that, but that’s my perception and that’s my decision.”
Administrators, including Hillary Chisum, director of Special Events and Suh Chen Hsiao, director of Student Affairs, attended a graduation committee meeting yesterday to speak to students personally about the change. A subsequent meeting will be held March 1 between students and Flynn.
The e-mail was simply a mistake that should not have happened, Flynn said.
“I certainly understand [the anger,]” Flynn said. “I’m going to be meeting with the students on March 1 so I can certainly apologize for the abruptness of the change.”
Though students are upset that their input wasn’t considered, Flynn maintains that students have been very involved in the graduation ceremony process.
“We have one of the most involved student groups in the nation, and especially compared to most student groups on campus,” Flynn said. “Anybody can serve on the [graduation] committee if they want to and that committee has been planning for graduation since last year, so students have definitely been involved in that component.”
Flynn encouraged students who have been especially inconvenienced to speak to her personally.
“I haven’t yet sent a formal announcement to the students; I certainly will be letting them know directly about the change,” Flynn said. “If any student has been inconvenienced, they can meet with me and we can talk about it.”
But students were left unsatisfied after yesterday’s one-hour meeting with school administrators.
“Nothing was resolved,” said Alberto Lopez, a senior receiving his masters in social work. “No questions were answered.”
Valerie Ayala, a senior receiving her master’s degree, agreed.
“[Chisum] was very understanding,” Ayala said, “[The administration] did make a very unilateral decision, but it is about consistency.”
Students with dual degrees are also worried because the ceremony’s time change to 2 p.m. might force them to decide which ceremony to go to. For example, the Gould School of Law is hosting its graduation ceremony at 3:30 p.m.
“The original time was chosen especially so students can attend both graduations,” Hang said. “Now we have to pick which to go to.”
Flynn said students will still receive an unlimited number of tickets for guests and remains confident that the tent will adequately house the ceremony.
“I think we’ll have a good graduation experience,” she said.