The University of Dallas administration is considering hosting next May’s Commencement Ceremony and Baccalaureate Mass off-campus at the Toyota Music Factory rather than on the Mall, where UD typically celebrates graduation.
Provost Jonathan Sanford is seeking student input as the administration considers whether the benefits of keeping graduation on campus are worth the challenges of poor visibility and exposure to inclement weather.
Sanford wrote that the administration has considered hosting commencement off campus before, although this is the first time he has been involved in such discussions.
The impetus for re-initiating the discussion arose after an uncomfortable three-hour ceremony in May 2018, in which all schools of the university participated in a common commencement for the first time. Sanford wrote that administration combined these ceremonies in order to demonstrate unity.
“We are a university, not a multi-versity,” Sanford wrote, describing the act of all students graduating together as one with “great symbolic power.”
Despite this symbolism, the university faced a great number of challenges. Due to the large number of participants, many attendees could not view the stage, Sanford said. Many vacated their seats to seek relief from the sun and some guests, such as grandparents, did not attend commencement for fear of heat exposure.
As the cost of hosting commencement on-campus is around $25,000, the additional expense would only be about $2,500, according to notes from Sanford’s meeting with Student Government (SG) last Monday.
However, such a decision has possible downsides that should be considered.
“I have no illusions about the fact there there are significant cons to this idea,” Sanford wrote. “A strong sense of place is part of what our education produces.”
If commencement were to be held off campus, he wrote, other commencement activities such as departmental parties and a reception would remain on-campus.
The venue would be also clothed in UD colors and the seal would be prominently displayed, Sanford wrote.
Sanford stressed that the decision to change the location of commencement is not final.
“No decision is being made about this yet,” he wrote. “I really am committed to the deliberative process, both with the students and others, about this and other matters at UD.”
Eventually, Sanford hopes to build an on-campus venue that is appropriate to host commencement.
In his meeting with SG representatives, Sanford said that a new auditorium will not be large enough to accomodate graduates and their guests; a graduation venue would need to account for 3,000 graduates and guests.
“That could be a few years off, but it’s something to shoot for,” Sanford wrote.
Sanford encouraged students, especially seniors, to give their input about this issue through SG.
“Dr. Sanford respects and understands the need for student input on university issues,” Slattery wrote. “The move will only be made if it is backed by the students.”
Both Sanford and SG President Clare Slattery wrote that student consultation will be sought through town hall meetings. Slattery wrote that SG will also share information from class polls to assess student opinion at Sanford’s request.
Dr. Andrew Moran of the English department expressed similar sentiments.
Hosting commencement off-campus is logistically convenient, but celebrating graduation on the Mall brings a certain “charm” to the ceremony, Moran said.
“As an English professor, I tend toward [preserving] charm,” he said.
Slattery acknowledged the logistical need to consider transferring the event off-campus, noting the heat and lack of space on the Mall, but echoing Sanford’s concerns, she wrote:
“It’s hard to picture myself receiving my diploma anywhere else than under the tower I trekked past for four years in a row.”