University postpones winter graduation ceremony to vocal student reaction
Graduation ceremonies need no introduction for students in the second half of their degree. These ceremonies are a focus for motivation, are big events requiring plenty of planning and are an integral part of university tradition. Therefore, the announcement on the 1st of November by the University of Leeds to cancel their December 2021 graduation ceremonies and to further postpone this milestone to summer 2022 was sure to create a strong student reaction. This policy decision was justified by the University due to the “continuing uncertainty about the pandemic”, a concern that unfortunately will have lasted two years for some students if the planned summer 2022 ceremonies do go ahead.
The decision to cancel this select round of ceremonies affected former students, specifically successful candidates, who graduated in 2020 and 2021. A reminder that two cohorts of graduates at our institution have gone without their official in-person ceremonies. Demonstrating this great significance to so many people, is the knowledge that 80 ceremonies equalling 25,000 students are being arranged by the University throughout spring 2022. December 2021 graduands have therefore been invited for a summer 2022 graduation with the date not yet available, but this has been promised to be given with three-months notice.
Robert Williams, who completed his Undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds in 2020 and his Masters in 2021, wrote a post on LinkedIn after his December 2021 postgraduate ceremony was postponed. This post came from “a place of frustration” as he had tried to contact the University through both email and social media, even tweeting to the University’s account which resulted in a generic response. “I’d love some actual communication and not some blanket email” Williams commented, also revealing he has not heard anything at all recently about his undergraduate ceremony. His post so far has got 24,000 views and a few hundred likes, this response contributing to him realising how important graduation is.
“Being charged £9000 a year for online teaching was already a joke but to rob students of their graduation appreas to be a real talking point.”Robert Williams, graduated at Leeds University in 2021
Robert Williams also discussed wider grievances with the University of Leeds, firstly criticising the university’s ethos “which has been questionable for a while”. This, he commented, was “from the way they treat their staff, to charging full price for online learning” which he expresses has led to a breakdown in trust for the institution “to do the right thing anymore” felt by himself and “many others” he knows. Williams has further spoken to a few lectures he is close with and describes their unhappiness with the way the university is being run. One lecturer did not even know the graduations had been delayed because this individual asked if Williams would be in attendance. Williams explains that he understands that staff support the student body but thinks that “they’re afraid of actively speaking out on the issue”.
In his LinkedIn post, Williams articulates the discrepancy with the Union Friday “Fruity” night being allowed to continue but not graduations. Williams has “no issue” with Fruity going ahead. However, he comments that although the LUU and University are two different entities, that should have “communication over these matters and this situation stinks of hypocrisy.
On the cancelled graduations, LUU commented “The LUU Student exec meets regularly with the University of Leeds Student Education Services management team to discuss various issues, one being graduation ceremonies. The university did advise us of their intention to postpone the winter ceremony; covid uncertainty was mentioned as a factor as well as an acknowledgement of the fact that students who graduated in 2019/20 and 2020/21 have yet to have their ceremonies. With this context we did not feel it necessary to comment further on their plans.”
They also commented on LUU’s venue policies: “At LUU we take the issue of student safety very seriously and the wellbeing of students, staff and the wider community attending our events, is our primary concern. We have monitored and continue to monitor government guidance on covid, adapting our risk management procedures as the situation changes. We have introduced a range of measures to reduce risks in both our retail outlets and venues and are working continuously to make sure all our services and events are delivered in line with the latest government guidance.”
Williams is thankful that he and his family lost nothing financially – his parents did however book two days off which have yet been given back. “Mildly inconvenient” he suggests in comparison to other students and families.
A 2020 BSc Genetics graduate did not bear any financial cost from delayed graduation ceremonies. The graduate detailed how the first round of communications for them were said to be held in the 2020-2021 academic year with two-months’ notice, that they have heard nothing since May 2021 and until The Gryphon’s post that they had no idea about the existence of these earlier planned December 2021 ceremonies. The graduate commented further on the University’s communication stating that it has been six months since they have been contacted which and feels that even their department is “out of the loop” based on them being the first point of contact for questions from course mates.
“I’ve seen countless friends post graduation pics over the past few months who finished the same time as me, it’s not fair that Leeds can’t manage the same.”
This former student cannot really remember what they said in the survey for suggestions which was about a year ago. For them, likewise Fruity going ahead is frustrating as the rationale “to keep waiting for stuff to be normal” for graduates was not applied to current students on campus. “It’s the uni’s organisation that I’m mad at.”
After these two interviews, on the 27th of November Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that due to the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant that “targeted and proportionate measures” are again to take place as scientists discover more. This governmental COVID-19 “Plan A” would certainly have impacted any university policy regarding graduation ceremonies. Assurance, transparency, and standards must be strengthened in order for any university change of plan to be successful. This is essential for graduates to enjoy their success and for us all to be safe. The University has the power to change its rules, but it must work diligently to achieve decisive student trust.