Displeased. Very disappointed. Unbecoming. No rational connection. Punishment and censorship. Utter bullshit. General strike. Mutiny. Revolution. Fuck this.
This was the reaction of U of T Law students on February 7, when those graduating this year received an email from Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold announcing that the date for the 2017 Convocation had been set—but with a sordid twist. The email informed students that the Faculty’s traditional Convocation day celebration—a graduation ceremony followed by a lunch with speeches and awards—would be torn asunder and replaced by two separate events.
The first would be a lunch the day after exam season ends for “staff, students and faculty only.” It would feature student awards and speeches, including the valedictory address. The second event, Convocation proper, would occur in June as usual. This would be followed by a reception in the Atrium, open to all, but bereft of the awards and speeches that typically follow the granting of degrees.
Students’ reaction to this news, as indicated, was swift and severe. One student in the Class of 2017 Facebook group described it as a “grade-A law school shit storm!” And this was rightfully so. Convocation is historically when students get to celebrate their tremendous achievement—the successful culmination of three-plus years of gruelling struggle—with their classmates, friends, and loved ones. This decision effectively denies them that opportunity.
The official justification was the need to answer complaints about acoustics and sight-lines stemming from last year’s event. This is not tenable: even if such complaints did arise, U of T is a large institution that is well accustomed to hosting large gatherings. It has several spaces in which to do so, and the same can be said for the City of Toronto itself. Any sort of claim that bifurcating Convocation is the only solution to these complaints is belied by numerous alternatives for holding a single, unified Convocation and reception.
Students indeed sensed an ulterior motive, and it was this perception that fuelled the clamour. At Convocation last year, Valedictorians Harrison Cruikshank and Brett Hughes jointly delivered a witty, heartfelt, and positively biting address. The two pulled no punches as they took tasteful shots at the occasional vainglory of our institution. Taken in this light, the administration’s decision to shunt this year’s speech to a closed-door luncheon reeks of petty vindictiveness—not to mention an inability to take in stride the pair’s valid criticisms over issues like rising tuition and mental health.
No matter the true reason for this decision, its optics are terrible and the opaque process that led to it is equally odious: not only was there no student consultation, but the administration admittedly moved unilaterally by design.
This decision was made in a high-handed manner. Frankly, this decision is wrong.
We call upon the U of T Law administration to reconsider its position and restore Convocation to a celebration that can be fully enjoyed by students, professors, and their friends and families together, under the same roof, at the same time. We promise we’ll be nice.
Editor’s note: Brett Hughes served as the Editor-in-Chief of this paper last year, and he provided some guidance on this article.