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Texas Teachers Oppose In-Person College Graduation

Lamar University, Texas Southern University, and Texas A&M plan to hold in-person ceremonies through December, but faculty are pushing back.

The Texas Faculty Association, consisting of over 500 faculty members across the state, urged Governor Greg Abbott to order the universities to cancel or postpone in-person graduation ceremonies for the fall. They have also appealed to private colleges and universities to abstain from all social gatherings and ceremonies.

The association’s president, Pat Heintzelman, called the in-person graduation plans “a dangerous idea.” An instructor at Lamar University, she is wary of in-person gatherings during a recent COVID-19 surge in the state.

Heintzelman stressed that Texas has not returned to normal, “despite what some people would like to think.” She remarked that we are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic and in-person graduation events could become “super-spreaders” for the virus. “The universities should set the example for health and safety,” Heintzelman said.

Safety First

Some Texas universities, such as Rice and Baylor University, are following quarantine guidelines for their commencement ceremonies. Rice will not have in-person proceedings, while Baylor postponed its graduation to May 2021. The University of Houston and Prairie View A&M University will have virtual graduation events.

Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M, wrote to candidates for graduation last June, explaining the choice to hold a virtual commencement. She said that the decision was made with safety in mind. She acknowledged that it might disappoint since graduation is a “defining moment” for students but that the commencement format cannot detract from students’ “hard work, perseverance, and significant accomplishment.”

Missing a Milestone

On the other end of the spectrum, the South Texas College of Law (STCL) in Houston conducted its traditional “hooding ceremony” in October. Law school dean Michael Barry remarked that “everything is not back to normal but the school made a commitment to the students.” Thus, they needed to be creative to ensure their students did not miss this milestone.

The school held the event in the George R. Brown Convention Center, which was limited to 25 percent of capacity. STCL conducted 12 separate ceremonies running every 90 minutes, only recognizing up to 20 graduates for every ceremony. The proceedings were recorded and posted on Youtube.

Barry reported that there was no surge in COVID-19 cases after the ceremonies.

Colleges and universities will have to work around the reality of the coronavirus. Safety should always be the top priority, but graduation is a milestone that deserves recognition as well.