Open letter protests university’s plans for graduation ‘in absentia’

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An open letter calling for changes to Oxford University’s plans to have students graduate without attending an official ceremony has attracted over 2000 signatures. The open letter calls for graduation ceremonies to be postponed or conducted in smaller groups, rather than cancelled outright.

Graduation ceremonies meant to be taking place on the 2nd and 9th May 2020 have been cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, “the health, welfare and safety of students, staff and visitors” being “the number one priority for the University” at this time. At the end of last week, the Degree Conferrals Office released a letter outlining the alternative, which is to confer degrees in absentia, meaning degrees will be conferred without students’ presence, and posted to them at a later date.

The policy has been met with wide-spread opposition. As mentioned in the publicised Open Letter, current and former students have stressed the importance of “the final opportunity to partake in the rich traditions of the University as one of its student members… to follow in the footsteps of countless others”.

The historic ceremony is not just noted by the student body, but is internationally recognised as a mark of collectivised Oxford identity. Hundreds of years old and conducted partly in Latin, the graduation ceremony encapsulates a traditional form of celebration that is largely unparalleled by other universities.

The prospect of “no ceremony at all” comes as a result of the government’s crackdown on gatherings and social distancing. In the official message from the Degree Conferrals Office to those graduating this summer, the new measures were deemed necessary to “ensure that students have their degrees conferred in a timely fashion and avoid their future endeavours being negatively impacted by any delays such as, in some cases, their employability.

“[..] We greatly regret the inconvenience to the students and their guests and we share their disappointment at not being able to celebrate their achievements in May”.

Driven by 1600+ supporters, as well as almost 400 students whose ceremonies have been cancelled, the Open Letter encourages “the opportunity to join future graduation ceremonies once it is safe for these to resume, or […] for degrees to be conferred via smaller college – or department-based celebrations at a future date”.

Vivien Hasan, a student from Trinity College, summarised “some of the themes” of the comments the form has received for The Oxford Student: “Many […] highlighted the following groups, who would be particularly affected by the decision to not postpone graduation ceremonies: first-generation students (and their families) looking forward to attending a graduation ceremony for the first time; medicine students, finishing 6-year courses and about to join the COVID-19 front lines; post-graduates (e.g. PhDs) completing 4+ years of intense study; international students whose families planned to travel to the UK for the first time in order to attend; and many others who experienced personal struggles during their time at Oxford.

“Students and parents emphasised the “once-in-a-lifetime” nature of graduation, and the sense of closure this rite of passage would bring them after years of hard work – to quote, ‘a memory that lasts a lifetime’. […] Many comments expressed shock and disappointment at the university’s decision to force in absentia graduations. There was criticism about a lack of communication from the university”.

The letter has been preliminarily sent to the Vice-Chancellor and awaits formal response.

Hasan added: “We would encourage all current and former students to read the letter, and to continue to add their signatures if they would like to support its content.

“They are also welcome to leave a comment for the university on the signature form”.

Get involved by viewing the Open Letter here: https://forms.gle/B4Rqme5V1n3QT1Gx7?fbclid=IwAR04yd2YDSEtjMOznhdCoDJO3yOXA8nEKbf6txIZ9dNOfKVI-lIBls5P5xE

Featured image courtesy of Oxford University Images

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