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Breaking: College could downscale future commencement, Manifest celebrations to help save costs

Students+gather+under+a+tent+at+Manifests+main+stages+at+Manifest%2C+in+May+2023.+Last+years+Manifest+theme+was+Unlock.
Kaelah Serrano
Students gather under a tent at Manifest’s main stages at Manifest, in May 2023. Last year’s Manifest theme was “Unlock.”

The college may need to downscale its unique commencement ceremony, which features live student musical performances and a dancing parade of administrators, as well as the annual Manifest Arts Festival to help to curb the looming $38 million deficit. 

President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim disclosed the potential cuts in an email this week outlining $17.3 million in cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts Sept. 1. 

Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, said it will be for “next academic year’s budget but there are no specifics available on any changes.” 

The college also has targeted parent’s weekend and convocation, the annual back-to-school festival at Grant Park.

The cuts would not impact commencement for this year, which is already scheduled to take place May 11 and 12 at the Arie Crown Theater, located at 2301 S. Jean Baptiste DuSable Lake Shore Dr. The college’s commencement ceremonies moved there last year. It had been held previously at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University. The Manifest Arts Festival will be Friday, May 10 of graduation weekend and will be located in various parts of the South Loop. The theme this year is “Breakthrough.”

This year’s graduating class is largely made up of students whose high school graduation ceremonies were canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Sharon Wilson-Taylor, vice president for Student Affairs, said the college is committed to providing the best possible support and experiences for students.

“Convocation, Manifest, and commencement are all important and celebratory milestones in the journey of each student, and my team will be working on how those events will take shape given a reduced budget,” she told the Chronicle. She added that it was too soon to provide specific changes because the budget decisions are not finalized. 

Kim, Chief Financial Officer Jerry Tarrer and Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David held a special meeting of the President’s Budget Advisory Board on Tuesday, March 19 to discuss the proposed budget. Members of the board include students, part-time faculty and staff union representatives, full-time faculty and department chairs.

What else is on the chopping block:  A 30% reduction in the Enrollment Management Department’s budget, resulting in a smaller recruitment staff and the elimination of LinkedIn Learning, Zoom and certain Canvas add-ons. 

The cuts also include the possible elimination of 101 positions, as the Chronicle previously reported, although about 25% of jobs are currently vacant. Details about position eliminations will be released by June 1.

Members of the advisory board reacted to the budget cuts and provided feedback, which Kim outlined in his email. 

Some of their suggestions included:

  • To focus less on cuts and more on revenue growth,
  • Consolidate use of space, 
  • Better define and quantify faculty service to explore if faculty can play a more direct role in delivering services to students and in fundraising, 
  • Streamline services and operations to address redundancies between Student Affairs and the Provost’s Office, 
  • Increase the number of “generalists” administrators who can work on a greater variety of projects and areas and 
  • Cut Residence Life in L.A. as students further in their studies may be better positioned to secure housing on their own.

In the background: The college had been in a planned, structural deficit, which was exacerbated by both the pandemic and the historic part-time faculty strike during the Fall 2023 semester, which lasted seven weeks. 

Since then, the college has said they need to cut millions from the deficit to help right the ship.

According to Kim’s draft advisory report, the college met the requirements for “adverse circumstance,” meaning the college can close or merge academic programs and lay off full-time faculty with tenure appointments. Just this week, the college postponed decisions to promote faculty, including granting tenure. 

What’s upcoming: The college will host a Zoom feedback session for the president’s Advisory Report, open to faculty, staff and students. There will be four sessions during the first and second weeks of April.  

What students are saying: 

Brianna Ramirez, a senior film and television major, said the location of commencement won’t affect her. 

“As long as I get my degree, it doesn’t affect me,” she said. “As long as my family can see me walk across the stage.”

Matthew Gutierrez, who is graduating in May with a master of fine arts in creative writing, said it’s a big deal for the college to scale back Manifest and commencement.

“I have an undergraduate degree, so I’ve been through a ceremony a couple of times. That could also be why I think for me, it’s not a big deal, but if you’re an undergrad, and this is your first college degree, that’s a big deal, and that’s not fair,” he said. “They probably didn’t have a high school graduation due to COVID, so I think they should go all out and give them a grand send off with their college degree because they missed that high school experience.”

Madeline Paradis, a senior graphic design major who is graduating in May, said Manifest is also an important part of commencement weekend.

“It was motivating as a student to see all of the student work from people who were graduating, and it makes you feel more connected to the school,” she said. “An important factor for students being here and wanting to stay at the school is getting to see what other students and other departments are doing.”

Additional reporting by Emily Ramirez and Kate Larroder.

Copy edited by Patience Hurston

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About the Contributors
Olivia Cohen, Editor-in-Chief
ocohen@columbiachronicle.com   Olivia Cohen is a senior journalism major, minoring in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She primarily reports on Columbia's financial health, administration and unions, but has also written about personnel and department changes, COVID-19 policies and abortion. She joined the Chronicle in August 2021.   Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kaelah Serrano, Director of Photography
kserrano@columbiachronicle.com   Kaelah Serrano is a junior photojournalism major. She has covered music festivals, campus art exhibitions and metro parades and protests. Serrano joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois