| Matt Schiavenza |
This morning’s news from Senior Associate Dean Troy Eggers that the administration had selected Tara Sonenshine as the Class of 2012 Commencement speaker provoked a series of reactions. First was shock: who is Tara Sonenshine? Second was disappointment. Third, and most palpably, was anger.
I want to make clear that I have nothing against Sonenshine personally. Her career, summarized neatly by Eggers in his e-mail, is certainly impressive and relevant to the aspirations of many SIPA students. For all I know, she is an effective and engaging speaker and will do a terrific job at our graduation ceremony next month.
But that, precisely, is the problem: I don’t know. Neither, I suspect, does the administration. As the other colleges at Columbia University rounded up impressive speakers over the past few weeks–including none other than sitting President Barack Obama, who will speak at Barnard– fellow SIPA students began to wonder with excitement who our speaker would be. After all, SIPA is one of the world’s top ranked public policy Master’s programs and is located in what is perhaps the world’s most cosmopolitan city. For the Class of 2011, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, delivered the commencement address. Was it unreasonable for our class to expect someone of similar stature? One would think that with tuition prices higher than the price of a luxury car the SIPA Administration could certainly afford to woo someone more interesting and noteworthy than an anonymous State Department diplomat.
It’s difficult to escape the sense that the administration failed to begin its search in a timely manner and then, as the nation’s universities were snapping up prominent speakers left and right, settled on a choice that vaguely looked good on paper. Why didn’t the administration make this process more transparent? Why didn’t they ask the students- many of whom have impressive backgrounds themselves- to leverage their connections to find someone more amenable to our interests? As it was, friends who were on the selection committee informed me that the Deans resisted their efforts to help in order to do things themselves. The results speak for themselves.
Columbia University is one of eight Ivy League schools, the most elite group of universities in the world. It is the only one located in New York City, one of the world’s greatest cities. SIPA students have made tremendous personal and financial sacrifices in order to devote two years of their lives to this program, in no small part due to the prestige that our degree conveys. Now, with our parents, relatives, and friends traveling thousands of miles from around the world to watch us graduate- an event which will surely rank as one of the more seminal in our lives- it is sad to think of what could have been.
Matt Schiavenza is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
UPDATE: Other SIPA students who answered our call for reactions:
| Philip Tuson |
The administration clearly does not see commencement as a big deal. The graduating class feels ashamed. Ivy league? It just went poisonous.
Philip Tuson is a second-year Executive Master of Public Administration student and EMPA Class President.
| Nkechi Mbanu |
That’s the best they can do? It seems like such a let down after Kofi Annan last year and President Obama at Barnard. It seems like SIPA put this together in a haphazard way – very last minute. To me, it builds upon my feeling that SIPA interests are not aligned with the interests of students.
Nkechi Mbanu is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
| Marissa Palnerow |
I am delighted that Tara Sonenshine, an accomplished woman leader, will be our keynote commencement speaker. Her breadth of experience in media and public service, as an advocate for women’s rights and peace, and her leadership role today in public diplomacy, will set the tone for a memorable celebration of our wide-ranging accomplishments at SIPA.
Marissa Palnerow is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
| Karen Attiah |
It just seems like the administration didn’t solicit any help or feedback from the students on graduation. For one of the top public policy/international affairs schools, it does not make sense that we wouldn’t have a more prominent speaker for our commencement. I think for a lot of people,, it just smacks of the administration at SIPA being out of touch with with students want. With graduation season upon us, its totally a bragging point to be able to say to your friends at other schools about who is coming to your graduation. It speaks to the prominence of your school and how on top of things the administration is. SIPA dropped the ball.
Karen Attiah is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
| Haya Douidri |
I have no idea who the speaker is and am really disappointed. I expected someone we know at least! Barnard gets Obama and we got someone almost none of us heard of. Very very disappointed.
Haya Douidri is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
| Rebecca Chao |
Ms. Sonenshine’s credentials are impressive…for a panel event at SIPA. But for graduation?! The administration forgets that our graduation event is not really just for us – it is for our family and friends too. I do not want to have to explain to my parents: “Ms. Sonenshine has been working for one month as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, the division of the State Department that leads America’s public diplomacy outreach, including communications with international audiences, cultural programming, academic grants, educational exchanges, and U.S. Government efforts to confront ideological support for terrorism…”
As we know, the administration’s lack of transparency and organization about graduation speakers is a bit appalling.Why did students only receive an email a week before spring break asking for graduation speaker input? I was asking SIPASA if students would be allowed to provide input in September but I think the administration wasn’t even thinking about the graduation speaker at that time. I do not know what happened with the planning but I know how I feel: it is as if the administration thought that because they did a good job last year in getting Kofi Annan, they could relax with us this year.
Rebecca Chao is a second-year Master of International Affairs student.
| Carolina Salazar Pardo |
She does not represent the “international” and “high profile” component that makes SIPA so especial. Picking a professor like Stiglitz, Sachs or Ocampo would be even better.
Carolina Salazar Pardo is a second-year Master of Public Administration student.
Brilliant internet art on the subject from SIPA Executive Summary
Echoes of controversies past from the Columbia Spectator in 2008: SIPA Commencement Speaker Choice Draws Student Criticism
And… from us in 2010: Banker As Commencement Speaker: Why it Matters to SIPA Students