Much of the spring 2019 semester at Georgia Southern University was defined by events on campus surrounding changes to the spring 2019 commencement ceremony. Here is a timeline of those events.
Wednesday, January 16, 9:25 p.m.
An email was sent from the university to all GS students informing that there would be changes to spring 2019 commencement.
The press release revealed that there would now be various ceremonies, a university-wide commencement in Statesboro and college-specific ceremonies in both Statesboro and Savannah.
Wednesday, January 16
Gillian Woody, senior elementary and special education major, created a petition to raise awareness. In the first day, the petition reached more than 7,000 signatures.
“I knew that a petition had helped when GS tried to move graduation to Hanner back in fall of 2016, so I figured I would try and see if people cared,” Woody said. “All I want is for each student, Statesboro and Savannah based, to be able to graduate on their home campus.”
Friday, January 18
The George-Anne obtained documents that laid out the two proposals for graduation. The documents, dated December 2018, noted that the commencement committee had been formed to get input from students and faculty before coming to a final decision.
The commencement committee in the proposal included no students.
Friday, January 18
Later that day, it was discovered that students, faculty and deans were consulted before the decision was made final.
One of the senators, Keyshawn Housey told The George-Anne that members of Student Government were never solicited.
"It was my understanding that this was a cost effective measure undertaken by the administration," Housey said. "Unfortunately this was never brought to me or any of the senators."
Wednesday, January 23
On Tuesday, The George-Anne set up tabling events in multiple spots on the Statesboro campus, asking students to give their thoughts on the commencement changes.
97 notecards were collected.
Wednesday, January 23
Ahead of the first SGA meeting of the spring semester, SGA on the Armstrong campus passed legislation that highlighted concerns with the commencement changes.
Spencer DeMink, Armstrong/Liberty executive vice president, planned to have the legislation read at Wednesday night’s SGA meeting in Statesboro.
"We will basically come together as one SGA to agree that the commencement changes are not what the students want," DeMink said. “"It’s just hard to imagine three [thousand], 4,000 people driving from Savannah to Statesboro on I-16 together all on one day and that being safe.”
Wednesday, January 23
In what would end up being the most attended SGA meeting of the year, the gallery continuously expressed their discontent with the changes to SGA President Jarvis Steele and Dean Andrew Dies, who was on the commencement committee.
In response to the many students asking for clarity, Dies and Steele confirmed that there would be no changes to the plans released a week earlier.
Thursday, January 25
Members of the Armstrong SGA were present at Wednesday night’s meeting and they were satisfied in the community’s engagement and questioning of the changes.
“I think the Statesboro Senate meeting was great," Tyler K. Tyack, speaker for the Armstrong campus SGA said. "I saw a lot of participation come out there and I think for the first time the three campuses have a united voice against something and I think the administration really needs to start listening.”
At the meeting, Tyack read a resolution that was passed by Armstrong SGA and he had plans of getting it passed by the Statesboro senate as well.
Friday, January 26
After Wednesday’s meeting, Steele told The George-Anne that the prior SGA administration had been informed of the commencement changes.
“I believe [the acknowledgement of the changes] occurred previously with my predecessor [Dylan John] and a little bit towards the summer and before Dean Jackson left,” Steele said. “I do not personally recall having that conversation with Dean Jackson.”
On Friday, John nullified these accusations, stating that there was no conversation of commencement with his administration.
“With regards to commencement changes, my administration was not informed nor aware about any of these changes,” John said. “We would not have been in favor of such a proposal and I know that Jarvis and his team are not in favor of these changes either.”
Tuesday, February 5
The first faculty senate meeting of the semester took place on the Armstrong campus and interim president Shelley Nickel addressed the commencement changes publicly for the first time.
“The goal of the committee, the task force was to review and find a way to honor academic achievement in a very personal way and to provide some unique traditions to the new Georgia Southern University,” Nickel said. “The task force...reviewed a number of things including how commencements are held on larger universities, which now we are one.”
Wednesday, February 6
Question of headcount was brought up at the second SGA meeting, to which Dean Dies announced there would be no tickets or limit to attendees.
"Could you bring as many people as you want? Absolutely, but rooms still have fire codes," Dies said. "I would encourage you to get there early if you're bringing a lot of people."
Later in the meeting, a proposal of a commencement celebration was the only other talk of commencement. Dies wanted to make it a positive experience, further commemorating the success of those graduating.
"In regards to the celebration nothing has been planned yet, just what the proposal is is to have a celebration here on the Statesboro campus and then a celebration on the Armstrong campus," Dies said. "As a Statesboro student you would attend the one here, obviously. There would be music, there would be food, potentially some sort of party favor of some sort."
Wednesday, February 20
The resolution that Senator Tyack had proposed nearly a month earlier was voted on. The Statesboro SGA voted it down with one yes, 13 no and 12 refrains.
Tyack, the initial writer of the resolution, was noticeably disappointed with the results, but vowed to still fight for what he felt was right.
"I understand the abstentions, but the nays I can't fathom," Tyack said. "Whether or not the Statesboro senate will support me on it, I will still fight tooth and nail to make sure the administration knows that students at the university, including those in Statesboro, are not in favor of this."
Saturday, March 2
Two weeks after his proposal has been shot down by the Statesboro SGA, Tyack reproposed it at the annual joint SGA session on the Statesboro campus. Members from all three campuses voted on the proposal which passed with 31 yes votes, two no votes and five abstentions.
"We can tell them that we did try," Housey said. "Personally I do not believe that any changes will be made to this semester's commencement, but for the future I hope we can have a say."
Wednesday, March 6
Dean Dies confirmed at the SGA meeting that transportation will be made available to and from the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses for the ceremonies.
“The signup for transportation will be coming out soon," Dies said. "We have contracted charter buses, so if you’re graduating in Savannah you’re gonna be able to take a bus from here to the convention center, and then Armstrong campus students that are graduating up here will be able to take a bus from the Armstrong campus up to here. That is for anybody. Students, family, guests."
Thursday, April 4
In his first meeting with The George-Anne, University President Kyle Marrero said that the plans were final, but was adamant on the importance of the assessment process.
“They have worked hard administratively to come up with an ideal from the very big university that could work in consolidation,” Marrero said. “I know we’ll do what we do with everything in higher education and we’re going to assess it.”
Later in the year, Marrero revealed that the school will be conducting a digital survey at the different graduation ceremonies to gage interest and opinion in the changes.
“We want to quantify that and then we’ll bring the task force committee together, assess that as far as logistics, volunteers, facilities workers, university police and everyone that put all of this together,” Marrero said. “We’re going to fully assess and then come back with recommendations to me based on that full assessment, making sure the students’ voice is in there too and we will make decisions on how graduation will be in fall and spring 19 and 20.”
Wednesday, April 24
Students in the College of Education sent a letter to President Marrero and the dean of the college, highlighting their concerns with the changes.
As part of their final project, some of the students planned to hold a presentation, inviting administration and SGA senators.
“We were trying to figure out a way to tell the administration to say ‘look we’re feeling neglected by you because we’ve been here,’” junior education major and one of the leaders of the presentation Kurtis Archer said. “This has been our school and now you’re telling us we have to graduate over there.”
Matthew Enfinger and Nathan Weaver contributed to this article.
McClain Baxley, The Daily Managing Editor, gaeditor@Georgiasouthern.edu