In light of Penn’s College Republicans recently voicing their concern with the “little ideological diversity” of past commencement speakers at the University Council Open Forum, student members of the Undergraduate Assembly say they don’t have a lot of involvement in the selection process.
College senior Kat McKay, president of the Undergraduate Assembly and member of the Speaker Advisory Group, said the group has not met yet, but will meet to talk about choices for the Class of 2018 commencement speaker.
“I thought [the Speaker Advisory Group] would have a bigger role than it does,” McKay said.
She said she thinks student input in choosing commencement speakers, and specifically choosing their own year’s commencement speaker, is important.
In an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian, McKay noted that during a meeting with Vice President and University Secretary Leslie Kruhly on Feb. 6, the two decided that in the future, the Speaker Advisory Group will meet in late April after the UA and Class Board elections.
She noted that with this change, “student leaders can play a role in selecting their own commencement speaker instead of giving input for the class after theirs.”
Michael Krone, College sophomore and communications director of the UA, said that more transparency is needed in the process so that students understand how the speaker is chosen.
“[Students] are concerned about the process,” Krone said. “It seems really secretive.”
McKay added that even if College Republicans were the ones to call out the lack of diversity, some other student group would likely feel that way too. Krone acknowledged that he “can see where [the College Republicans] are coming from.”
Kruhly noted that anyone in the Penn community can nominate a speaker through their website. She also mentioned the student Speaker Advisory Group, which meets with the University Council to consider nominees, as a way students are involved in the selection process.
According to Kruhly, her office creates “resumes” for the best nominees and provides them to the Nominations Committee of the Board of Trustees. The committee, which includes trustees, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price, is directly responsible for choosing the commencement speaker.
Kruhly declined to comment on the arguments raised by the College Republicans representative at the University Council Open Forum, but she did say she thinks there are full and appropriate avenues with which students can be involved in the process. She encourages everyone to nominate a speaker.
She also added that “the commencement speaker should reflect Penn ideals.”
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