Commencement controversy

Student protests against JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon gain attention from university administration, national media outlets.

The debate over Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s choice for Syracuse University’s 2010 commencement speaker continues to rage on.

After JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon was announced as this year's commencement speaker, a group of students protested the decision and don’t seem ready to cease action any time soon.

The students created a Facebook group alerting members of all their actions in what they call “Take Back Commencement.” They created an online petition against Dimon as the speaker that has gained more than 1,000 signatures so far. They’re holding a rally at the Quad on Friday at 2 p.m. And even after university administration offered to host an additional speaker, students remain determined to accomplish their goal of not having Dimon speak.

"I gather that this was a group of students who made the selection, but I also completely understand that some people may be opposed to it."
- Jamie Dimon

Following a meeting with Cantor, Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Thomas Wolfe, and seniors Ashley Owen and Mariel Fiedler, the university booked Hendricks Chapel as a venue for a potential additional speaker May 16. Owen and Fiedler said they were mildly receptive to the idea, but acknowledged it wouldn't stop their protests.

“It’s a step showing she’s listening, however much she’s listening,” said Owen, a magazine and geography major who is one of the organizers of the “Take Back Commencement” movement. “It’s not quite what we’re looking for, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Owen and Fiedler both said they believe Dimon is an inappropriate choice in this economic climate. Owen said Dimon is “part of the system that failed the American people,” while Fiedler questioned JPMorgan Chase’s monetary contribution to the university, which has helped create a new Global Enterprise Technology academic program, among other things.

The “Take Back Commencement” group has been meeting regularly to devise ways to remove Dimon as commencement speaker. Its biggest event will be this Friday when it hosts a rally on the Quad, which will be a good indicator of the strength of its constituency.

Local and national media outlets have picked up stories about the students’ protest. Even Dimon has commented on the issue, telling Business Week, “I gather that this was a group of students who made the selection, but I also completely understand that some people may be opposed to it. People should stand up for what they believe in. I applaud that some folks there want to stand up for something different.”

SU administration acknowledged the ongoing protests by meeting with students April 9 to explain the core points of an e-mail Cantor sent the same day to the university community acknowledging her support of Dimon as commencement speaker.

In the meeting, Owen proposed booking another speaker to follow Dimon in the Carrier Dome. Worry that this might be seen as a debate between the two speakers prompted Cantor and Owen to discuss Hendricks Chapel as a venue for another speaker after commencement. Owen said Cantor offered to help students pay for the additional speaker in that time slot. But Owen said she's not sure many students would want to go to another speech after a long commencement ceremony.

Fiedler, a senior broadcast journalism and English and textual studies major, said that while the ultimate goal of "Take Back Commencement" is to not have Dimon speak, the group will look into bringing someone else to Hendricks Chapel. The group will make a suggestion box for speakers, available at the rally.

Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs at SU, was briefed on the meeting and said there was good dialogue between both sides. He expects the dialogue to continue in the following weeks.

“I think from Chancellor Cantor’s perspective she’s been very proactive in addressing a wide range of issues on campus and being very upfront with the campus, in terms of at times when there are issues of importance that are being discussed on campus,” Quinn said, "whether that’s the employee benefit process that we went though earlier this year, and, of course, the commencement speaker.”

Students said they will still write Dimon to try and get him to revoke his invitation as commencement speaker. Quinn confirmed, though, that Dimon will still be speaking in a month.

“I would say Jamie Dimon’s our commencement speaker,” Quinn said. “At the same time, I always want to reiterate that given that the chancellor met with the students, we respect their opinion and are always willing to listen to our students' concerns.”

Photo Illustration

Thanks again for your feedback. The photo illustration is merely meant to represent graduation, and the photos a representation of different reactions people could have to a commencement speaker. While this year’s speaker has been controversial, we didn’t intend for viewers to make a direct correlation between those shown and their potential opinions (or lack of opinion considering they already graduated) about the choice.

Well the student isn't even

Well the student isn't even on campus anymore, as I'm assuming none of these students are as this picture is taken at last year's commencement. The use of the picture suggests those students do have an opinion on the subject which is kind of projecting those opinions onto them a little unfairly. I was just wondering if this came up when you guys were discussing the composition of the photo illustration, considering this is a pretty contentious issue that these students are unknowingly becoming the face of. I know, legally, the university can use images of students in a way they deem appropriate but, given that the NewsHouse is supposed to be a student news organization, I find it an interesting dilemma.

(This is in no way disrespect, I am just curious as to how you guys approached the issue).

Photo Illustration

Hi Kate,

Thank you for your comment. The staff at the NewsHouse does not intend to imply that every student on the SU campus is actively involved in the debate. The photo is simply an illustration of two opposing points of view.

Alyssa Henry
The NewsHouse lead producer

So does the photo above imply

So does the photo above imply that those particular students are happy/sad about the choice of commencement? Because I happen to know the one student and s/he doesn't really give a damn...

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