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Smatresk talks commencement choice


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Rhiannon Saegert / News Editor

President Smatresk met with the Student Government Association at their weekly Wednesday meeting to discuss the details of how and why Gov. Greg Abbott was selected as the mass commencement keynote speaker.

Following student outcry over the choice of Abbott for commencement speaker, SGA created a resolution calling for the Distinguished Lecture Series committee to be involved in the selection process for commencement in the future. Smatresk addressed the SGA, relaying the story from start to finish and answering questions before the resolution was finalized and voted on.

Smatresk said commencement speaker booking costs and time were major factors in the choice.

"There's a sweepstakes for big name speakers," Smatresk said. "Negotiations usually begin a year before commencement."

He said costs usually range between $50,000 and $100,000 for speakers, and the process has left him feeling somewhat cynical.

"How much money is it worth for you to hear a famous person say, 'Great job class of 2015' for 15 minutes?" Smatresk said. "I don't actually know the answer."

He said as commencement drew closer, the administration was beginning to feel pressured. When Abbott accepted the invitation in May, the commencement committee still had not found a speaker.

"Of all the universities he could have chosen, he chose to come here," Smatresk said. "I value the opportunity to make a friend. We have a chance to make a friend with power who will listen to us."

He said he had not expected the backlash the choice generated, but appealing to students was not part of his job.

"Would I like to have your input? Yes I would, but I think it's an open question: At what cost?" Smatresk said. "I'm open to it, I'm inviting the dialogue and I'm happy to engage in it."

Political science junior and SGA senator Billy Poer asked about rumors of Michael J. Fox speaking that had circulated at the beginning of the semester. Smatresk said tentative negotiations had begun, but no money was spent.

Anthropology and history senior and senator Mario Ovalle and integrative studies senior and senator Christy Medrano, both members of the Abbot Free UNT Coalition, asked questions during the Q & A portion of the meeting.

Ovalle brought up Abbott's stances on marriage equality, immigration and education funding, asking if Abbott was an appropriate choice and whether LGBT and undocumented students would feel comfortable at commencement.

"Should we allow someone like Abbott to speak at commencement?" Ovalle said. "UNT has politicized commencement by bringing a very polarizing figure."

Smatresk said Abbott's politics were incidental to his role as commencement speaker, and the invitation was not tacit approval of his platform.

"Is it uncommon for universities to host political events? No," Smatresk said. "We are an open forum for any political entity."

He spoke about Wendy Davis' campaign stop on campus last semester as a comparison.

"She was appealing to her base. Does that mean we picked or chose as a campus?" Smatresk said. "It doesn't. The campus doesn't take sides."

Ovalle said he was not satisfied with the answer, given the number of students who told him they will not attend commencement while he petitioned against Abbott's arrival.

"I do not think the president adequately addressed my question," Ovalle said. "He called that reaction silly. I think that's highly condescending to someone experiencing those struggles. If we want an inclusive and diverse campus we need to have inclusive and diverse events."

Medrano asked how bringing Abbott as a speaker would open up a dialogue when he will only be at UNT for a brief time.

"I'm not defending him, but I think we have a chance to show the governor what we're about," Smatresk said. "He comes in, he talks, he spends some quality time with a few people and he leaves."

Medrano said she felt the answer was true, but told her Abbott's presence on campus was more about the relationship between the administration and the Texas legislature than the graduating student.

"It is disheartening that Smatresk would not consider these [LGBT and undocumented] communities when selecting a commencement speaker, especially because those particular students often had the most difficult path to graduation," Medrano said.

She said the financial reasons given for selecting Abbott as the speaker did not ring true to her.

"I do not understand how Smatresk could put forth financial costs as a reason to bring Abbott when the administration already knew just how expensive a commencement speaker could be," Medrano said.

The vote was postponed due to lack of senator attendance. The SGA currently plans to vote on the resolution electronically.

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"If we want an inclusive and diverse campus we need to have inclusive and diverse events."

So, this student wants inclusiveness and diversity . . . if the host/speaker believes/thinks exactly the way he does . . .

Am I following this correctly?

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We invited the Governor of Texas to speak at commencement for probably the first time in the school's history. The University did not invite the governor's politics, but his office. If you can not separate the institution from the person sitting in he chair, you need to take a step back.

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The problem is that people are concerned that gov. abbott will inject many of his controversial beliefs into his speech. This man has never passed up an opportunity to promote his agenda.

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The problem is that people are concerned that gov. abbott will inject many of his controversial beliefs into his speech. This man has never passed up an opportunity to promote his agenda.

I wonder if Laverne Cox will inject many of his controversial beliefs into his speech. After all, he does have an agenda.

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We invited the Governor of Texas to speak at commencement for probably the first time in the school's history. The University did not invite the governor's politics, but his office. If you can not separate the institution from the person sitting in he chair, you need to take a step back.

Solid take.

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Protest at the library mall today. Cops called out because a couple fist fights broke out.

Yep...folks clearly showing how open-minded they are about differing views.

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Curly fries or I'm going to cut you.

straight.

like god intended.

This is more or less exactly how the fight started. I am hoping they were just sleep deprived and stressed over finals.... or I may seriously have to doubt our acceptance standards.

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But in the apocrypha it's HEAVILY implied that salt and vinegar seasoning is AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE LORD!

I thought Jesus was the reason for the season (ing?)

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To be fair... It wasn't the people peacefully protesting that caused the fracas.

I made no inference to who did what, why or when. Just the fact that some idiots decided to start a fight. showing, of course, their openness to differences in thought.

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