The department of University Advancement announced prospective plans to improve commencement at Cal State Fullerton during last Thursday’s Academic Senate meeting.
This year’s commencement may only include college department ceremonies, removing the university graduation ceremony altogether.
Two of the smaller venues on campus where ceremonies have taken place in the past may be eliminated from the schedule to make the experience more equitable for students with disabilities. Disability Support Services evaluated those smaller venues as not being able to provide an equitable graduation experience for students that utilize their services.
Commencement ceremonies that take place in the morning will start at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., said Andrea Kelligrew, associate director of University Events.
“This isn’t the final final. This is one of many presentations and conversations that we’re having,” said Greg Saks, vice president of University Advancement, regarding the changes.
University Advancement projects there will be 150,000 individuals who attend commencement this year based on the number of eligible graduates, Kelligrew said.
Saks thanked Kelligrew, interim associate vice president of Central Development Todd Frandsen, and director of University Events Brooke Fessler for their research and work to create an improved commencement schedule.
“They’ve gone to countless commencements throughout the CSU and UC and other places. They’ve looked at national trends, they’ve done surveys and other kinds of things to our students, again talked to many of the people in this room,” Saks said.
Last year, University Advancement conducted a survey among eligible graduates regarding the commencement experience. Eighty-three percent of students who responded to the survey said they did not attend the university ceremony.
The changes also come two years after the 2017 commencement when the event was deemed a mass casualty incident by the county due to the number of 911 calls regarding heat exhaustion, Kelligrew said.
“2017 we had I think about 35 people have heat exhaustion reactions,” said Capt. Scot Willey of the University Police Department. “The whole north side of the stadium was filled with multiple fire agencies so we had about five fire trucks. They brought in extra ambulances so we had another five or six ambulances staged up there.”
Gayle Brunelle, a senate member, suggested at the meeting that the ceremonies take place when it is dark to avoid increasing heat exhaustion and dehydration from experience at previous commencements.
Fessler and Kelligrew said that removing the university ceremony, shortening the duration of the college department ceremonies and not scheduling ceremonies during the hottest time in the day will address those concerns.
2019 is a transitional year with plans to make bigger adjustments in 2020. University Advancement hopes to develop a model that is sustainable for years to come, Kelligrew said.
While this year’s commencement will not differ much from last year’s, the 2020 commencement will change further to fulfill student expectations. The 2020 model is set to have livestream and tickets will not be required to attend in response to student requests, Kelligrew said.
“We have international students whose parents cannot get visas to come. We have folks that their families are across the country, or their families are deployed,” she said. “We’ll be able to live-stream it, record it, and then post it to YouTube for playback so those folks who can’t come will be able to see it.”Andrea Kelligrew
Kelligrew also said the 2020 commencement would take place during the week, from Monday to Thursday, so as not to interfere with students who are still taking exams. This would also eliminate the need for staff and faculty to work overtime during commencement, since this can no longer be sustained by the budget. The ceremonies will take place on the Intramural Field and Titan Stadium.
“When you switch to the week day, you do make it harder for people to show up. Just about everybody is going to have someone who can’t get there in the middle of the week,” said Jon Bruschke, a senate member. “It might be sort of a hollow victory to say that you have unlimited tickets but none of your family can go.”
The two-hour cap on the duration of ceremonies and schedule of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. will give students and families the ability to pick a time better suited for their schedule, Kelligrew said.
“We’re going to announce where the ceremony island on what day at the beginning of the academic year. That’s a nine- month lead time, giving them the most lead time if they can’t make their arrangements for travel or ask for time off,” Kelligrew said.
Nancy Fitch, secretary of the senate, said her main concern was the change to weekdays.
“The big thing I’m worried about is traffic at those particular times. I live just up here in Brea and there’s no way I can take the freeway into work before even 11 o’clock anymore. It’s just car after car after car coming in from there. It’s just the same at five o’clock in the evening,” Fitch said.