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Students react to keynote Commencement speaker

Former President Grant Cornwell is scheduled to speak and receive an honorary degree

Caren Holmes
Staff Writer

Several senior students, dissatisfied with the selection of former College of Wooster President Grant Cornwell as the 2017 Commencement speaker, organized to meet with President Sarah Bolton and members of the administration to address their concerns. Scott Wagner ’17 explained that he became interested in investigating the matter after he spoke with other several other seniors who “seemed unhappy with the decision.” He went on to say, “We feel that during his tenure at Wooster former President Cornwell did not take an active role in students’ lives, and we questioned the process by which he was chosen to be our commencement speaker.”

Theresa Spadola ’17 suggested, “Cornwell does not fit the bill” to be the Commencement speaker due in part to his perceived lack of meaningful engagement with the graduating class.

Secretary of the College Angela Johnston explained that the process of selecting a commencement speaker is based primarily on honorary degree recipients. Nominations for honorary degrees are brought to the Honorary Degrees Committee each year. Faculty and the Board of Trustees must vote on those selected in the committee. According to Johnston it is routine to give honorary degrees to former presidents within one to three years after completing their tenure. Johnston explains that it is customary for recipients of honorary degree to speak at commencement. However, Wagner points out, “Angela [Johnston] and President Bolton emphasized that honorary degree recipients were not expressly chosen as de-facto Commencement speakers.” Johnston explained that while honorary degree recipients are not paid, their decision to speak to the campus is made on a voluntary basis.

Wagner and Spadola expressed concern for the lack of transparency and student involvement in the selection of the 2017 commencement speaker. Johnston explained that while according to statute, the Honorary Degree Committee is composed of four faculty members and two students selected from the Student Government Association (SGA), and “the students were not appointed by SGA in time for the decision.” After being unable to participate in the Honorary Degree Committee nomination process, students were not involved in any other aspect of the commencement speaker selection. Spadola said, “Students, I believe, just feel a bit blind-sided by this decision because the process is rather convoluted and no effort of transparency has been put in.”

Both Wagner and Spadola were invited to meet with President Bolton and members of the administration to address their concerns surrounding the selection of former President Cornwell and the Commencement speaker selection process itself. Wagner explained, “While we are not entirely enthusiastic about the selection of former President Cornwell, we respect the decision of the Honorary Degree Committee.” Spadola suggested for increased transparency in the selection process, “Going forward I am recommending to the appropriate groups that we take a good look at the process and see where students can be involved and improvements can be made.”

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