It looks like the Board has, once again, put its foot in its mouth.
At last Wednesday night’s Board meeting, Student Trustee Marshall Lewis emphasized the need for more student input in the selection of a speaker this time around. But former Board President Anthony Fellow was quick to say that he thought there had been too much student input in the process as it was, blaming last year’s commencement debacle on the students.
“We ran into problems last year because the students had too big of a voice and it was very problematic,” said Fellow. “It’s really the president who invites [the speaker], no one else.”
Last year’s fiasco saw the Board of Trustees on the “hot seat” for rescinding Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as speaker of commencement because of leaked private photos. And it was Fellow’s own words, not the wishes of the students, that caused the firestorm.
“With the porno professor and the sex scandals we’ve had on campus this last year, it just didn’t seem like the right time for Mr. Black to be the speaker,” Fellow told the Courier, touching off the controversy. “We’ll be on the radio and on television. We just don’t want to give PCC a bad name.”
It’s safe to say that ultimately it was Fellow’s words and the Board’s decisions that fueled the negative media frenzy from the likes of Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and blogs across the Internet.
After a string of controversies arose one right after the other, Black was ultimately reinstated as commencement speaker.
It seems as though Fellow, and perhaps other members of the Board of Trustees, have forgotten the point of commencement: to celebrate the scholastic achievements of students. For many, the associate’s degree is the key to opening the doors to a university. For others, the walk down the stadium is a step into the working world. Students, if anything, should have the loudest microphone in this process than any other party. Isn’t it them who contribute to PCC’s high ranking as a community college.
Board Member John Martin made a sarcastic comment about how they might as well just invite President Barack Obama – to which we reply, what would be wrong with that? Are Pasadena City College students not worthy of hearing the President of the United States address them?
Lest we forget what the Board did as damage control by appointing Eric Walsh, Pasadena’s disgraced Director of Public Health, who preached outrageous, homophobic sermons and bogus devil claims involving Beyoncé of all people. It is not known how the board could have missed his controversial sermons, yet leave it to the students of PCC to do a thorough evaluation.
The board even discussed having a board member on the commencement committee. This would be a mistake. The board policy as it stands has the school’s superintendent sending out the invitation. This is completely understandable, seeing as the superintendent is the face of the school. But it should not be mistaken that he is merely an ambassador.
In most commencement speeches, the speaker usually points out the fact that it is the students’ day. Dustin Lance Black himself did so last year, when he spoke at Robinson Stadium. The school should do their best to honor their alumni with a memorable celebration rather than brushing them off like dust.