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New commencement speaker committee to include 3 students

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC political talk show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” was announced as OSU’s Spring 2014 commencement speaker March 21. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC political talk show “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” was announced as OSU’s Spring 2014 commencement speaker March 21.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

After no students were involved in the most recent commencement speaker selection, a new committee has been created to select the lineup for the 2014-15 academic year.

Ohio State Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz said the committee will include three students.

The spring speaker, Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” was selected by Steinmetz and others in the Office of Academic Affairs — a list he said included “all the vice provosts and all the vice presidents.”

Steinmetz said the choice was made without the traditional use of the selection committee because the university is in a transition period as it prepares for newly appointed president Dr. Michael Drake to take over in June.

“It turns out in so much transition that was going on, the selection of a speaker came rather later than normal,” he said in a Tuesday interview with The Lantern. “To get a prominent national figure to campus, you must have a nine to 10 month minimum lead time to make the arrangements, to make sure the schedule’s open, etc., for somebody … we (were) down to five months (when we started looking). It (was) a pretty quick timeline.”

Interim President Joseph Alutto said students should be involved and the committee should be more structured, so there won’t be a lapse again in the process.

“We need to have a process where there’s student involvement and we have had one and I think we will be continuing to have that involvement,” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Monday. “That’s what we need to reinstall, which is a committee that stays active throughout the year and doesn’t get sidetracked when there are other changes that affect the institution, because graduation is going to occur every year. They’re going to occur multiple times every year.”

The committee for future years is set to include multiple students — one selected by the Undergraduate Student Government, one selected by the Council of Graduate Students and one selected by the Inter-Professional Council.

There are also set to be six faculty members — including the new addition of a faculty member from the Honorary Degree Committee — and four staff members, representing the Office of Student Life and the advancement, government affairs and special events and commencement committees.

Steinmetz said it was important to have someone who represents the Honorary Degree Committee involved with the speaker selection process because he wants people who receive honorary degrees to interact more with the university a few days before commencement.

“This was a connection that was never made very much in the past even though we give honorary degrees to our commencement speakers,” he said. “We don’t engage the people that come and get honorary degrees enough. So we’ve set aside funds to bring those people onto campus earlier to teach classes and to interact with the students and faculty, so we want that connection to make sure that happens when we select the commencement speaker.”

Niraj Antani, a 2013 OSU alumnus who was on the commencement speaker selection committee last year when U.S. President Barack Obama was chosen to speak at the 2013 Spring Commencement, said he was happy to hear a committee would be back for future commencements.

“(The new committee) seems similar enough (to the previous one),” he said. “It’s probably a good idea to have the honorary degree person on there.”

He added that having someone from government affairs was an interesting choice.

“It’s good to have someone from government affairs on there, even though it was my opinion that students were tired of having politicians as their commencement speaker and they almost want more entertainers on there,” Antani said.

Steinmetz said the committee will be run and managed by the Office of Academic Affairs rather than the Office of Communication and the Board of Trustees’ office as in past years.

The committee is charged with finding “a good public speaker in a position to deliver a meaningful message with relevance for our graduating students” for the winter, spring and summer graduations, according to a document outlining the committee provided by Steinmetz.

The speaker should also have “name recognition” — something specifically stated as important for the May commencement ceremony.

When looking for a speaker without the help of a committee, Steinmetz said he wanted the life experiences that come with name recognition.

“As a selection of an individual … particularly for the spring commencement which is our largest one, you want somebody visible. You want somebody that has life experiences, that can talk about those life experiences in a meaningful way,” Steinmetz said.

He added that he didn’t care what the speaker’s profession or ideas were as long as they could share their experiences.

“It doesn’t matter to me the line of life that somebody comes from. It can be politician, it can be somebody from the media, it can be somebody from industry and business, etc.,” he said. “It can be an alum, an artist, etc., and I think if you look over the commencements in the past, you’ll see that that’s been the pattern of selection.”

Former USG Vice President Josh Ahart said last week USG tried to reach out to the commencement speaker selection committee throughout the year but never received any responses.

“The vice president of USG gets to appoint (someone) to certain committees, so I did appoint someone to the commencement speaker selection committee, and they tried several times to get in contact with that committee chair,” said Ahart, a fourth-year in public affairs. “No emails were ever responded to, no emails were ever forwarded or responded to … I never heard anything all year.”

Some graduating seniors said they were happy to hear student input will be a part of the process again in the future.

“I would prefer more student input because I have heard some backlash from how politically oriented the speaker is,” said Renee Riedel, a fourth-year in marketing.

Ian Mulholland, a fourth-year in economics, agreed that student input would positively impact the process.

“It’s good … you can’t dwell on it too much. Chris Matthews is fine for me because at least I’ve heard his name,” he said.

Spring Commencement is set to take place May 4 at noon at Ohio Stadium, and about 10,000 students are expected to graduate.


  1. And students will hate the speaker just as much.

  2. Ok so decision has to made 6 to 10 months in advance to get someone noteworthy—which means Matthews is all they could get. And the presidential search got in the way of normal business? I find it a joke that senior leadership in this university made this decision—along their political views I guess. Apparently we have lost the land grant charter.

  3. Buckeye Disgusted

    “To get a prominent national figure to campus, you must have a nine to 10 month minimum lead time to make the arrangements, to make sure the schedule’s open, etc., for somebody … we (were) down to five months (when we started looking). It (was) a pretty quick timeline.”

    The fact that this poor excuse for a human being was available should have been the first clue NOT to ask him to Ohio State. Is Putin slated for next year? And to agree with Bob H, the money we are paying Matthews would be put to better use toward giving support to the OSU Extension offices that OSU is so fond of closing. Shame on you, Ohio State.

  4. The selection of Chris Matthews is almost as BAD as Obama.

  5. I continue to be disgusted with the liberal front of OSU. They once had proud heroes like John Glenn speak to our new and influence graduates. Now they have cowards liars and those that have never once been in charge of a payroll… like Obama and this nut. The trend is shocking. Over my life I have given literally $100,000’s of dollars to this institution. NO more and I have changed my will as well. Let’s see how it all works out when people like myself stops giving forward to those that don’t appreciate the gift or character of doers in this society and reward those that ride the system and others hard earned efforts. This escalated with the joke of a man ( Gee) now at West Virginia and is continuing with Alluto. Shame on you Joe and the University. These decisions have cost associated with them to what was and still is a great institution, but falling quickly and becoming a laughing stock in the USA for its blunders in management of tough issues in sport and in academics.

    This is simply shameful!

  6. Didn’t that Niraj kid graduate already? He needs to get a life. From all of his previous quotes, I thought he was a tea party nut job. Didn’t realize he participated in bringing President Obama to campus. I’m surprised he didn’t ask to see his birth certificate first.

  7. At least this is an admission that the administration did NOT procure a “Prominent” speaker as the article states. I hope when they introduce him they state “Welcome Chris Matthews. We couldn’t find anyone Prominent on short notice so thanks for stopping by with some anti American poison.” I’m not sure how anyone that has seen Chris Matthews spew his venom on MSNBC can think that this would be a representative speaker for OSU. I have to think even liberals, who sometimes believe in free speech (when the subject agrees only with them), would be offended by his constant cutting off of anyone who disagrees with him. And I thought we were trying to teach anti bullyism in our schools. I guess that only goes for the primary education schools. I have received numerous emails from work associates (and graduates from other universities) who have seen that Chris Matthews was THE OSU commencement speaker. Lets just say that the statements attached to these emails are a way of sharing underhanded ridicule of the university I continue to promote
    (for now). Lets just hope this trend doesn’t continue. It is embarrassing to have to defend the indefensible decisions of those who are supposed to be cultivating a wide diverse culture. They have fallen well short in this situation. I would say about 90% of all the comments I have read about this selection over the last week or so have strongly disagreed with this choice.

  8. Former VP Bill Hall is rolling over in his grave. Things used to be done better in his day.

  9. Such a shame that this year’s graduating class must suffer for the university’s poor planning and procrastination. They have endured enough with the transition to semesters. So glad I will no longer be sending money to OSU. This is a travesty and this administration should be ashamed.

  10. Why are they talking to Niraj, who graduated?

  11. Ghost of Walt Seifert

    Well it’s graduation day at Ohio State. The pomp and ceremony. The full regalia. The tables full if diplomas handed out individually per the vaunted custom of the university from days of yore to today. The hard work. The sacrifice. The mounting debt. The traffic jams. The parking fracas. The gnashing of teeth over the broken English and misunderstood faculty. And that brings us to today’s guest speaker Nd the unilateral decision, curiously and hastily made by a learned and academic man who should know better: Joseph Steinmetz. What a poor excuse for a university administrator and leader of a world-class faculty. Steinmetz’s decision will go down in university infamy. What a learning moment for the students. Take this example and do better. It won’t be hard.

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