University addresses potential commencement protests


With the approach of Spring Commencement, two top University of Michigan administrators have emailed the Ann Arbor campus community and the families of prospective graduates to address the possibility of protests at this year’s graduation ceremonies.

Provost Laurie K. McCauley and Martino Harmon, vice president for student life, sent the messages April 26 saying the university seeks to ensure that “graduates are able to experience the joyous and celebratory event they deserve,” while also respecting everyone’s right to free speech and expression.

“Commencement offers our students the chance to celebrate a significant milestone in years of hard work and achievement, and for their loved ones, it offers the opportunity to commemorate the transition from one chapter of life to the next,” McCauley and Harmon wrote in their message to U-M faculty, staff and students.

They pointed out this year’s ceremonies are even more significant for undergraduates, many of whom missed their high school commencement celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The messages acknowledged the university’s history of peaceful protest, and noted protesters’ tent encampment on the Diag that began April 22.

“Given events around the nation and world, our commencement ceremonies, too, will likely be the site of various student expressions, including possible demonstrations,” McCauley and Harmon told the campus community.

“We respect and uphold the principles of free expression, and also recognize that no one is entitled to disrupt university activities.”          

Long-standing policies — specifically the Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression policy detailed in Standard Practice Guide 601.01 and the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — make clear that interfering with speakers and events is not protected speech and is a violation of university policy.

In the message to parents and families, McCauley and Harmon said deans, directors and speakers will generally be patient during graduation ceremonies if lawful and relatively minor disruptions occur. “If a program is significantly impeded, we will ask for your patience as we take steps to de-escalate and address the situation,” they said.

U-M’s main Spring Commencement ceremony will be May 4 at Michigan Stadium, and the Rackham Graduate Exercises are set for May 3 at Hill Auditorium. In addition, a wide variety of school, college, unit and specialty graduation celebrations are scheduled in the days before and after the main ceremonies.

“As we look ahead to next week, we offer each of our students a hearty congratulations. And we ask everyone to remember the strength that comes from our diversity, to reaffirm our commitment to one another, and to foster a respectful environment for all,” McCauley and Harmon said in their email to the Ann Arbor campus.


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