Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) is the only graduate school that will get to host its own official in-person graduation ceremony during commencement week after the University granted the school an exception — a decision that some students in other schools are calling a “slap in the face.”
The GSB’s June 7 event in Frost Amphitheater would not have been permitted under the University’s previously announced plans for commencement week, which provided for an in-person commencement for advanced degree holders at Stanford Stadium, but required all individual school and departmental ceremonies to take place virtually.
Provost Persis Drell granted an exception because the GSB had already made extensive plans for an in-person event, wrote Stanford Law School (SLS) associate dean Jory Steele in an email to graduating law students on May 14. (Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda, responding on behalf of the University and the GSB, declined to comment on why the University approved the in-person event for only the GSB and not other schools, but wrote that all events would comply with local and Stanford health protocols.)
Several law and GSB students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retribution, said they were shocked that the University would single out the GSB for special treatment, given the school’s track record during the pandemic. GSB MBA students have repeatedly disregarded Stanford’s Campus Compact and public health guidelines, participating in large gatherings both on and off campus.
“This does make me feel like they don’t value all graduate programs equally, and that is disappointing,” said a third-year law student. “It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth on the way out the door, and it’s a shame.”
Graduate Student Council co-chairs KC Shah J.D. ’22 and Sanna Ali, a fourth-year communication Ph.D. student, wrote in a statement that “hearing that an exception has been made for the GSB is a slap in the face to the other students and departments that inquired about holding individual in-person ceremonies and were told no.”
“Throughout this academic year, many GSB students have flouted the letter and spirit of county and University public health guidelines, and engaged in behavior that endangers the campus and the surrounding area,” they added.
According to multiple graduate students, school-specific events are the highlight of commencement week, allowing students the chance to walk and receive their diplomas with the rest of their graduating class.
“A lot of graduates normally don’t even go to the school-wide commencement,” said a student at the GSB. “Students at the law school are pissed.”
The decision to hold school and departmental celebrations virtually during commencement weekend was made to “limit the overall impact of multiple gatherings on campus,” according to Miranda. The University expects that informal in-person gatherings will take place in the lead up to commencement weekend.
Two surveys aimed at assessing law students’ desires for an in-person event were conducted earlier this year: one by law school administrators and the other by class presidents. More than half of third-year law students canvassed in February were in favor of an in-person law school ceremony, according to the class presidents’ survey, which was obtained by The Daily. Only 21.3% of the class was opposed to gathering in-person, which would likely be lower if the survey was conducted today, several law students speculated, given increased vaccination rates.
But law school administration relayed a different story, telling the graduating class that most students were accepting of a virtual event, according to the email sent by Steele.
Shah questioned the University’s justification that the GSB had done more to plan an in-person event, which he said was disappointing to law students given their efforts to engage the University administration.
The law school’s class presidents were in contact with Stanford leaders in the months preceding this news, according to Shah, but the University rejected student plans to hold an in-person ceremony for law students.
“The idea that the GSB was better equipped to host an in-person ceremony because they had a contingency plan in place seems inconsistent with the University’s representations,” wrote Shah.
According to SLS spokesperson Stephanie Ashe, the law school “communicated with our students throughout the graduation planning process, soliciting their input and sharing it with the University graduation planners and leadership to facilitate their decision-making.”
Law students stressed the need for SLS administrators to act with transparency for graduation event plans. Steele wrote in her email to students that even if the provost were to allow an in-person ceremony for the law school, “we have just under four weeks before graduation, and it is simply logistically impossible to shift gears now.” Ashe added that the law school will work to provide an opportunity for its graduates to return for an in-person graduation ceremony with family and friends at a later date.
While law students shared a consistent sense of disappointment in their administration’s handling of graduation ceremonies, the sentiment within the Stanford School of Medicine is a stark contrast. According to Ryan Brewster, a fourth-year medical student and class representative, student leaders from the graduating class have been involved in the planning process for months.
Similar to the law school, the School of Medicine has planned a remote celebration. The virtual medical school commencement will be held via a webinar after the university-wide commencement and will include a video montage of MD students, according to Neil Gesundheit, senior associate dean for medical education.
Given the School of Medicine’s unique relationship with Stanford Hospital, many medical students have exercised additional levels of caution throughout the pandemic, assuming the role of ambassadors for proper public health policy and guidelines, Brewster said.
“Of course, graduation is an important bookend to our medical school experience, and there’s a lot of tradition and history baked into what goes into the ceremony,” Brewster said. “Given this, we advocated for an in-person component, but ultimately I think our community falls behind the administration. I am confident that they have our best interest in mind and will organize a celebration that respects the significance of the occasion while prioritizing our collective safety.”
Gesundheit wrote that some medical students have inquired about an in-person graduation ceremony, but none have submitted a formal petition. He added that the school is open to having graduates return in 2022 for an in-person event.