Chancellor Karlsson Ends ERAU Prescott Tradition

SGA, Staff, and Faculty Pleas Rejected

Chancellor Dr. Anette Karlsson has promptly stopped a long-standing Embry-Riddle Prescott tradition that allows faculty and staff to hand degrees to their graduating children and family members. Six graduating seniors and their faculty or staff parents are affected by this change for the Spring 2020 graduation.

In response, faculty and staff formed a committee to speak with Dr. Karlsson to convince her to reverse the decision. They were rejected twice when they attempted to meet with the Chancellor. Dr. Karlsson told them that all students should feel special and receive the same attention when they graduate, and that the current tradition distracts from those students without family in the faculty and staff. Dr. Karlsson is holding firm on her decision.

Proponents of the tradition have said that this tradition represents the family-oriented atmosphere that makes Embry-Riddle Prescott unique. Student Regan Sensmier, daughter of AE Department Chair Dr. Mark Sensmier, believes that the end of the tradition says a lot about how the new administration has changed the core values of Embry-Riddle Prescott: “The first thing I remember [previous chancellor] Dr. Ayers saying when I came to campus is ‘Welcome to the Embry-Riddle family.’” She went on to state that “a change like this follows [a] trend of taking away what makes going to a small school like Riddle special.” Reagan will be graduating in May, four years after her brother received his diploma from Dr. Sensmeir at ERAU-Prescott graduation.

Following the change, the Student Government Association (SGA) received at least 14 letters from faculty, staff, students, and Alumni expressing their disappointment at the end of this special tradition:

Alumni Devin Stover wrote that the tradition “made such a formal affair have a human aspect… if graduation turned into an assembly line it would lose that spark of humanity that came with those little moments.”

Student Emily Krueger, who does not have a faculty or staff parent, believes that “this tradition does not interrupt the graduation ceremony or has any negative impact on other students.” In contrast, Dr. Karlsson claims that the tradition has caused confusion and stalled the graduation ceremony.

Another student said, “when you take the emotion out of a deep accomplishment,” graduation will just become “a piece of paper and a 20 step walk across a stage, shaking the hands of officials who mean nothing to you.”

Full time staff member and mother of a Spring 2020 graduate, Karyn Casner, wrote that one of the main reasons her daughter is attending Embry-Riddle Prescott is because she knew that Casner would handing the degree to her on stage when she graduates. Casner went further and wrote that “since [her daughter] found out that this tradition has been taken away from us, she is deciding not to attend graduation at all.” 

Student and Spring 2020 graduate Hannah Bryner, daughter of Associate Professor Dr. Elliott Bryner wrote that she and Dr. Bryner have been to every graduation since Winter of 2016. She explained that “[my dad and I] both know there’s plenty of time for students like me to have the opportunity to receive our diploma from a family member.”

COAS Representative Sabrina Davis told the chancellor that “we are hard-working eagles [sic] and would like to be treated as such.”

For Reagan Sensmier, getting her degree from her father at graduation “would be such a good culmination of two decades worth of work on his part, and also the investment I’ve gotten to put in [to my education] because of that.” Regan Sensmier moved to Prescott when she was three, and “grew up on this campus.” She’s been to 19 OctoberWests and has watched her father spend 20 years of his life at Embry-Riddle. Sensmier feels that the tradition is “a great way to wrap that time up between me and the university as well as me and my dad.”

People affected by the end of the tradition received no notification from the university. News of the change circulated “through the grapevine,” according to Dr. Sensmier. Everything that Dr. Sensmier and his daughter have heard about the change has been from the second hand, and never in official university-wide communications. This lack of communication is a major disappointment for Regan Sensmier, who feels that students are now being left out of the loop when the university makes critical changes to this campus. Sensmier says that with the new administration, “things just seem a little more grey from the student perspective about what’s going on with this campus and how things are being done.”

According to Dr. Sensmier, this tradition is a part of what makes this campus so unique. He said that he’s been on many campuses over the years, and the strong sense of family between the students, staff, and faculty is a huge part of what makes this campus so special. “I’d hate to see us lose that and become just another school where students are seen as dollar signs walking around,” Dr. Sensmier said.

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