On April 18th, a group of graduating UWT students peacefully protested the five ticket limit for the 2016 Commencement on the Grand Staircase in the center of campus. The protest, which was coordinated by ASUWT President Sophie Nop, lasted approximately 40 minutes (12:20-1 pm) and featured Chancellor Pagano, who addressed the crowd of 10-15 students.
Chancellor Pagano faced the students, who were holding signs opposing the ticket limit. His opening statement was direct. He said, “I feel really good about this [the protest] we teach our students to be critically minded and that is exactly what is happening now.”
Pagano went on to say that he respected the work that ASUWT and the participating students had placed into the Commencement Survey, which The Ledger reported on last week. Pagno went on to say that he was proud of the research that ASUWT had accomplished in the survey.
Pagano participated in the 2015 Commencement Ceremony, as he was hired in March of 2015. He said during his statement to the protestors that, “We knew after last year that this would become an issue, we thought it would be in a couple of years, but, it looks as if the problem is right now.”
ASUWT recommended and sought for the Commencement Committee to legitimately consider the possibility of the 2016 Commencement being held at the Stadium Bowl, an idea Pagano ruled out during his speech. “There is a lot of planning that goes into a commencement, I am not willing to jeopardize that in this short amount of time. We are two months out, it is just too close to the date.” Representatives from Stadium Bowl recently contacted UWT administrators to say they would not be able to hold the event due to a sink hole in the stadium.
UW Seattle’s Husky Stadium was also virtually ruled out as a possible venue because the distance (36.4 miles) was too long of a commute.
All signs point to a Tacoma Dome venue for the Commencement—at least this year—as Pagano stated that the Dome is “working” with UWT and is allocating more seating arrangements to fit more people into the venue. According to an email from ASUWT President Sophie Nop, there will be an additional 1,822 “limited view” seats— the location of those seats was not given. However, students who may need those tickets are “not guaranteed a sixth or seventh ticket,” according to Pagano.
The Commencement Committee is currently in the process of clarifying the age requirement for infants who need their own seat, according to Nop’s email.
At times, tensions between students and faculty became heated. Out of the 10-15 students there were two or three that were extremely angry at the committee and Pagano. One woman pled to administrators, demanding for an increase in tickets, “With five tickets I have to decide which one of my children gets to attend my graduation. It’s not fair that I have to choose which child gets to attend. Why am I supposed to choose?”
Others said that it was just as much of their families’ right to be at graduation as theirs. Another woman said, “I need everyone there that has helped me. This is my life and everyone that was involved in it should be able to come.”
One woman went as far as saying that if the ticket count was not raised she would not recommend UWT as a university to attend to the children she mentors at the non-profit she works at.
The protest ended with Pagano telling the students that various members of the Commencement Committee were in attendance and were willing to speak with students about their concerns regarding the ceremony. Several faculty and staff members attended the protest.
According to Nop, the relationship with the Commencement Committee has been very positive, and they are all working to accommodate the students as much as they feasibly can. In the campus-wide email, Nop says, “The Commencement Committee understands that the ticket issue will be ongoing because our campus is growing. So they are looking into other options to accommodate student needs in future years.”
To summarize, 2016 UWT graduates—who choose to walk in commencement—will be given five tickets. When the graduate goes to sign up to walk online on the UWT website they will be prompted to say how many tickets they need. If a student needs more than five tickets they will be placed into a lottery system—which is still being worked out by the administration. The extra tickets for the lottery will be from those who choose not to walk and those who do not need the five tickets.