By Rosemary McClure ‘13
In mid-March, when Scripps senior Lydia DePillis-Lindheim went to turn in her mathematics thesis, the registrars broke some bad news: she would not be allowed to participate in commencement with the class of 2013. Forced to take a semester off due to medical reasons and a subsequent family emergency, Lydia will be finishing her 2.25 remaining elective credits this summer. Despite obtaining over 320 signatures on a petition over one weekend, the administrators refuse to budge.
The problems began a few weeks into her first semester sophomore year, when Lydia had to have surgery. “I thought I was going to just be able to take a couple of weeks off and come back and catch up,” she said, but by then she had missed three exams, and was advised by a professor to either drop classes or take a leave of absence rather than try to catch up.
“And then on top of that five days after my surgery my mom was in a car accident. …Once that happened I knew I was going to have to help with my sisters and take care of my family and everything so I took a leave of absence,” she continued.
However, since all of these events occurred after the deadline for students to declare leave of absence, Lydia was charged half the usual amount for tuition. But half of Lydia’s tuition is covered by a scholarship, which was revoked when she decided to take the term off. So Lydia was still liable for the exact same amount as if she were receiving schooling. Furthermore, Lydia was required to pay the full amount for room and board. She was told that since the room had been assigned to her, she needed to pay for it, though she wasn’t allowed to keep her belongings in her dorm room.
Though Lydia’s case is an extreme example, the fact remains: why do we have a rigid deadline by which students must notify the school of plans to take emergency leave? Nobody plans to take medical leave. Nobody plans for their parent to be in a car accident. Scripps needs a better system to accommodate students in circumstances like Lydia’s.
Scripps needs to notify students earlier if they are short by even a fraction of a credit and will not be allowed to participate in commencement. If Lydia had found out earlier that she would be excluded from commencement, she could have overloaded on classes this semester. She has fulfilled all of her major and breadth requirements, and only needed to take a few electives. But she did not receive this news until mid-March, well after the add/drop date.
Scripps’ suggestion that Lydia participate in next year’s ceremony, with the class of 2014, is the only option afforded her, but it is very unrealistic. Scripps only holds one commencement ceremony per year, in May. But students who finish their requirements in the summer or fall may not be able to come back, especially if they are employed. “I feel like it would be kind of strange after nine months of work to be like, ‘okay, hold on, I gotta take a vacation and go back to college so I can participate in the graduation ceremony,’” observed Lydia.
Although the Scripps course catalog says “Students may participate in commencement exercises upon satisfactory completion of all degree requirements as verified by the registrar” and “Degrees are granted effective October 18 for students completing requirements over the summer,” it does not specifically stipulate that students cannot petition for an exception. Under “Petitioning Process” the handbook states: “A general petition form is available in the registrar’s office to: … Request a waiver of, or exception to, any stated academic regulation,” so Lydia assumed she could petition for an exception to the commencement policy. At Harvey Mudd, for instance, students who have a plan of action to ensure they will finish can petition Mudd’s academic committee in order to walk.
Despite overwhelming support from students, Scripps told Lydia that commencement participation is just not something a person can petition for. The registrar’s office told her they had contacted the other Claremont Colleges, who reported having the same policy as Scripps and abiding by that policy strictly. But we all know of students at other colleges who have received some leniency in this regard. Said Lydia, “I’ve heard examples from literally every single school except Scripps of people walking [despite being a few credits short]. So clearly they are petitioning for it and getting accepted and Scripps just…won’t. Even though they have the same baseline policy.”
Excuses for this rigidness range from faculty opposition to not wanting to detract from the experience for other students. But “we’re opposed because faculty are opposed” is not a legitimate rationale. In light of Lydia’s successful petition, which clearly indicates student support, the argument of detracting from student experience doesn’t hold up either.
She has also heard excuses like “we don’t want to set a precedent.” A precedent for what? For weighing the unique challenges and merits of a student? It’s not as though she is asking for her degree early. She just wants to participate in the ceremony. You would think a college as tight-knit as Scripps would be a little less bureaucratic given such a compelling case. “I feel that [setting a precedent] is one of the worst reasons of all,” said Lydia. “It’s like saying, ‘we don’t want to spend a little bit of extra time caring about one student because then we’ll have to care about more students.’ And I just don’t agree with that.”
Lydia has pretty much hit a wall in terms of her own participation in commencement, but she still plans to write a letter to Scripps senior staff asking them to reconsider the policy. She also hopes also to raise awareness for other students, so none of them will have to find out in March like she did.
“There have been a lot of people, even others in our class, who are in similar situations where unforeseen circumstances affected their ability to graduate on time. And they’re really close. And they really do deserve to graduate. They just got shut down, on individual basis—without their peers knowing about it, without options being presented. So I think the more people know about it, the more we can influence the policy.”