Thursday, November 10, 2011

VETERANS DAY: Controversy surrounds annual celebration honoring veterans

By Heather Perry, Editor-in-Chief

Pacific Lutheran University closes for eight of ten federal holidays. It remains open during Veterans Day and Columbus Day.

In recent years ASPLU, the Student Veterans Association and other student organizations have lobbied for PLU to cancel classes on Veterans Day, which would prevent students from having to choose between attending class and the annual Veterans Day Celebration.

The keynote speaker for this year’s ceremony is President of the SVA and Vet Corp member junior Michael Farnum. Farnum said he hopes PLU will honor veterans in the future by cancelling classes.

“We [veterans] want to have Veterans Day without any distractions,” Farnum said, meaning they didn’t want to worry about having a grade lowered for missing class.

One of these lobbying attempts to cancel classes was a letter from ASPLU President senior Alexis Ballinger and ASPLU Diversity Director senior Elizabeth Ginsberg sent through email Oct. 27 to the directors of PLU offices, deans and department chairs.

This letter called attention to “numerous student-led petitions, a resolution from the Residence Hall Congress and a resolution from ASPLU calling for an opportunity to recognize Veterans Day without experiencing conflicts with class schedules.” It also included how ASPLU “will be encouraging students to actively participate in the Veterans Day Celebration, even if it results in their absence from class.”

Provost Steve Starkovich responded to ASPLU and all those CC’d in the original email almost exactly 24 hours later. He detailed his offense at ASPLU’s encouragement of students to miss class for the celebration and said he considers the “proposed actions to be a show of disrespect for me, for the faculty of this university and for the process by which the academic calendar is established.” He also objected to the “‘spam’ nature” of the email, requiring him to “reply all.” 

“It gave this sense that ‘We know classes are important, but this other stuff is more important,’” Starkovich said. “That just does not ring well to the ear of a faculty member who’s here to teach.”

Starkovich added, “The irony is that I personally support this notion that we recognize veterans the way most people in the country recognize veterans.”

ASPLU declined to comment.

Starkovich said Associate Provost for Curriculum Jan Lewis and he met with Ballinger, Ginsberg and ASPLU Vice President junior Taylor Astel. He said they had a “good conversation” and what ASPLU has done since is “very good.”

“Their name for it was a ‘walk-out,’ and I think that was a very, very unfortunate choice of words,” Starkovich said. “They’ve since stopped using the phrase.”

He added that they left the discussion with a higher regard for the academic calendar, the process by which it is created and the importance of class time.

Due to how the academic calendar is created and approved, Starkovich said the soonest change to cancel classes could be implemented for the 2013-2014 academic year. He then detailed the lengthy formation of the academic calendar:

  1. The registrar, currently Kristin Plaehn, creates a draft of the academic calendar two years in advance, often beginning in January. This means that in January 2012, she will draft the 2014-2015 academic calendar.
  2. The draft is then passed on to the provost, currently Steve Starkovich, who looks over it and takes it to the President’s Council.
  3. The faculty assembly must then vote on and approve the draft. If they do not approve it, it is kicked back to the registrar for revisions.

Starkovich further explained how it is “virtually impossible to change the academic calendar during the academic year” due to the process by which it is formed and since it would disrupt professor syllabi, exam schedules, etc.

“The whole idea of changing it on the fly really diminishes the academic program,” Starkovich said. “It’s like you’re saying, ‘I know you put a lot of time into this, faculty assembly, but we have a better idea.’”

Associate Professor of Philosophy Pauline Kaurin, whose academic specialty is military ethics, said she’s taken her classes in years past to the Veterans Day Celebration since the class material relates.

“I’m sympathetic to the desire to cancel classes so that students can participate in the Veterans Day Celebration,” Kaurin said, “but I’m also sympathetic to the provost’s concern and the faculty’s concern that we not erode the academic calendar.”

Whether classes are cancelled or not, Farnum said he hopes PLU will always place the emphasis on honoring its veterans.

“Just come out and say thank you,” said Army ROTC Human Resource Tech Bob Rahal, who volunteered to be this year’s master of ceremonies for the Veterans Day Celebration. “We’re not asking for much.”

Rahal added that a simple thank you “means a lot to us. It really does.”