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Updated 4:00 PM January 25, 2008




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Alternate venues explored for Commencement

The University continues to explore options for the location of Spring Commencement, and will seek further input from graduates about the importance of holding the ceremony on campus, and the number of guests they want to be able to invite.
Ongoing construction at the Big House has administrators and students exploring alternative graduation venues. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"We're listening and we hear you," Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper told some 125 participants Jan. 16 during one of two campus meetings held last week to allow students to express their concerns, offer suggestions and ask questions. Dean of Students Sue Eklund said communication would be going out soon to graduates, including a poll that will help identify priorities for the graduating class.

Leaders had announced Jan. 9 that due to construction on the Big House, the April ceremony would move to Eastern Michigan University's Rynearson Stadium, which could accommodate the usual eight tickets per graduate. The second largest campus venue, Crisler Arena, would only allow two to three guests per participant.

Addressing the Board of Regents Jan. 17, President Mary Sue Coleman said in attempting to keep families together leaders had "underestimated students' desire to graduate on campus." Reaction from students, parents and alumni about moving the event to EMU prompted University leaders to rethink the location, she said.

"I want to thank the students who are expressing their opinions and ideas through e-mails, phone calls and informational sessions," Coleman said. "We genuinely appreciate their feedback, and are exploring a variety of locations and the tradeoffs that come with them."

When administrators learned late fall that construction would create a problem with the Michigan Stadium site, they began to look into alternate locations, including the Diag, Ingalls Mall, Hill Auditorium and the indoor track facility. All of these options will be reconsidered, along with a number of suggestions that came from students and others via e-mail and at the two sessions, Harper said.

A reduced-capacity ceremony at Michigan Stadium also is being re-examined, said Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, and he outlined the considerable obstacles that would have to be overcome.

Baier used current photos of the renovation and diagrams that depict what construction will take place in April to show participants the challenges on the site.

He said that contractors are in the excavation stage now, and at the time of commencement will be in the process of erecting the steelwork for two multi-story structures being built on the west and east side of the stadium, creating a restrictive construction zone that is not safe for non-construction personnel.

Baier, and Michelle Pate, director of the Office of University and Development Events, said construction also makes it difficult to provide the adequate means of egress required by safety codes.

Throughout the community meeting students offered suggestions for alternatives ranging from multiple ceremonies at some campus venue to allowing graduates limited access to the stadium for a photo session while holding the ceremony elsewhere.

While many seemed satisfied that the University was attempting to identify an alternate location on campus, some, like Amanda Perring of Troy, wanted leaders to pull out all the stops to make Michigan Stadium work.

"I feel you really need to focus in now on how we can do it at the Big House," Perring said.

By contrast, Josh Sloan, a biology student from Pennsylvania, said his biggest concern is being able to have enough tickets for his family. Sloan said he thought the plan to move to EMU was fine but is glad the University is trying to think creatively about how to keep it on campus.

"I might be in the minority here, but having my entire family here and eight guests is pretty important to me," Sloan said. "Otherwise, I might as well tell them to stay in Philadelphia and I'll send a DVD."

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