Ohio State students did not play their typical role in selecting this year’s commencement speaker, and the university remains silent about who did.
“Because of time constraints and leadership changes during the past year, the decision was made to use a more streamlined approach to speaker selection for Spring 2014 Commencement,” Amy Murray, university spokeswoman, said in an email. “For subsequent years, the Office of Academic Affairs is designing a speaker-selection process that includes faculty, staff and students.”
Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC political talk show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” was announced as the commencement speaker Friday.
In the past, there was a committee of students, faculty and staff from several departments, including Undergraduate Student Government and faculty governance members. Murray said for future speakers, a committee is slated to be in place and should be appointed by the end of the semester for recommendations for the 2014-15 academic year.
The leadership changes Murray mentioned that led to the decision to not have a committee this year included former President E. Gordon Gee’s retirement from OSU July 1, days after remarks he made in December 2012 about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular brought national attention. Dr. Michael Drake, chancellor at University of California Irvine, is slated to take over as the new university president, effective June 30.
Murray did not comment on who specifically made the decision for commencement speaker this year, but said Matthews’ background makes him a good choice.
“As one of the nation’s most experienced political journalists, Matthews has a remarkable depth of experience. As Spring Commencement speaker, he will offer a unique perspective on our country’s history and future,” Murray said.
Some students, though, are upset their voices weren’t involved in the decision.
USG Vice President Josh Ahart said USG tried to reach out to the commencement speaker selection committee throughout the year but never received any responses.
“The vice president of USG gets to appoint (someone) to certain committees, so I did appoint someone to the commencement speaker selection committee, and they tried several times to get in contact with that committee chair,” said Ahart, a fourth-year in public affairs. “No emails were ever responded to, no emails were ever forwarded or responded to … I never heard anything all year.”
He added that other things have been going smoothly this year, despite the changes in leadership.
“I have been hearing that this is a transition period for the university. This is a transition period for the entire university, not just this committee, and every other committee has been fine this year,” Ahart said. “I don’t think that’s any excuse for something as big as the commencement speaker. Everything else has been working just fine.”
Niraj Antani, an OSU alumnus who was on the commencement speaker selection committee last year when U.S. President Barack Obama was chosen to speak at the 2013 Spring Commencement, said he was surprised to hear there was no student voice in this year’s selection.
“That is disappointing because I think having student input in the process is valuable, and also, it’s the students’ commencement speaker, so having a graduating student on that committee is useful and necessary,” Antani said.
He said there are typically two students — one undergraduate and one graduate or professional student — on the committee. Antani said his input, and the recommendations he received from other students, was valued.
“The committee was very receptive to my ideas for people who the students suggested,” Antani said.
Commencement is set to take place May 4 at noon at Ohio Stadium, and about 10,000 students are expected to graduate.
Some of those soon-to-be graduates said the decision could have been more inclusive.
Seth Teplitsky, a fourth-year in biology who is set to graduate in May, said students should have had a voice.
“In an ideal world, you’re always going to have the students have a say on what goes on in the university, especially for something as big as the commencement speaker,” Teplitsky said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the end of the world but I think it could have been handled better.”
Ahart said he hopes students will have more of an input in upcoming years.
“In the future, (the university) needs to adhere to the policies that students are on the committees,” he said. “Ohio State talks about the shared government model a lot and we are very proud of it. This was a situation where it was not utilized and some students might not be happy with the speaker selection. They were not able to provide that input that is so vital.”