Since the announcement of Governor Corbett as the May 2013 Millersville commencement speaker earlier this year, the community has been in an uproar. From students to faculty and alumni, the controversy surrounding the decision to bring the 46th governor of Pennsylvania on the special day for graduates has reached its peak. The large displeasure comes from Governor Corbett’s huge slashes to the funding of state-owned and state-related universities, which has troubled students’ ability to further their education.
Combine the attendance of an infamous political figure with a huge controversy, Student Senate organized a meeting to facilitate discussion and questions from a frustrated community.
Vice president of advancement Jerry Eckert and chief of police Peter Anders were available at the public forum in the SMC atrium to answer questions and guide discussion on a certain topic. Eckert spoke on the commencement speaker selection, as to why Governor Corbett was chosen despite his financial hits to Millersville. He admitted to the audience that the commencement speaker committee had not convened, though no violations were made.
“I screwed up,” said Eckert.
He explained that the list of speakers compiled consists of distinguishable alumni, people who hold elected offices, and even federal officials. “It’s not the first time we asked a governor,” he said.
Eckert did understand that the governor’s polices were detrimental to the institution, though he made the audience aware this was not the first time public education was cut. His support for Governor Corbett extended into the new president of Millersville, Dr. Anderson, who claimed his duties on April 1.
“It’s a great opportunity for our new president to meet the governor,” said Eckert. Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity to “showcase our students and faculty.”
It’s no surprise that Governor Corbett proposed a 50% funding cut to public education of Pennsylvania, which was significantly reduced to 20%. That alone left a major impact for many students who already struggled to stay in school financially. Despite this and any other frustrations people have against the governor, Eckert reminded everyone that he is our governor. There have not been any cuts recently as well.
“We’ve created a quality campus,” he said, speaking on recovering from the impact of past funding cuts.
Nonetheless, the audience was eager as to why the governor was initially invited, which was decided upon by Dr. McNairy prior to her retirement.
One person in particular was frustrated with the governor’s attendance because he could not see the impact his policies have made on the students; there was no time to talk face-to-face to the students who felt the brunt of the force. Eckert responded by reminding that the budget passes more than the governor’s hands.
“There’s a lot of people involved,” he said.
Eckert added that if, for example, four people on the list say yes to invitations given to them simultaneously, “you’re in trouble.” Those on the list for commencement speaker are therefore asked on a one-by-one basis.
Graduating students feel their special day is being ruined. Some are even considering not attending graduation. But Eckert is optimistic that the graduates and its attendees will remain respectful.
“This is about a day of celebration for students,” said Eckert. “It’s a very important occasion to be respectful.”
However, there are still people attending graduation who are interested in expressing their displeasure of Governor Corbett. Student Senate offered to facilitate, and not sponsor, a silent dissent through gold armbands on graduating students. They are still working with the administration to approve this request. Dr. Breaux, vice president of student affairs, commented that the administration is still “working to determine the proper protest” and “keep with the ceremony of the attire.” In other words, Student Senate and the administration are determining on the ‘dissent regalia.’
“We are not looking to deny anyone from the stadium,” she said regarding other types of dissent attire.
Chief Anders guided the discussion into what’s appropriate for protesting at commencement. The questions protesters have to ask themselves are whether it is reasonable and is it disrupting business?
“Is commencement business of the university? Yes,” Anders said.
Anyone is entitled to the constitutional right to protest, as long as the ceremony and graduation are not disrupted. In a better scenario, Anders suggested that protesters let the police force know their intentions beforehand.
It is not Millersville’s intention to disregard anyone from attending the graduation ceremony, which Dr. Breaux emphasized at the public forum. This is why Student Senate and the administration is working together to decide the best way to protest someone’s displeasure of Governor Corbett.
“We are not looking to deny anyone from the stadium,” said Dr. Breaux.