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Following protests, diplomas to retain Purdue University

Students protested outside the university administration offices on both campuses on Oct. 1 to
show their disagreement with the proposed diploma changes.

Students protested outside the university administration offices on both campuses on Oct. 1 to show their disagreement with the proposed diploma changes.

Christopher Anguiano

Christopher Anguiano

Students protested outside the university administration offices on both campuses on Oct. 1 to show their disagreement with the proposed diploma changes.

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Purdue’s Trustees decided at the Oct. 12 meeting to withdraw a proposal to change diploma mastheads to reflect the campus that they were earned at, but will add the signature of the campus chancellor.

At the meeting, a new memorandum from Steve Schultz, Purdue’s chief legal counselor, was instead put forward stating the new changes to vote on. The board voted unanimously on the item.

Chancellor Thomas Keon sent a university email on Oct. 12 confirming the news and announcing a slight change in future diplomas. The current version of diplomas states the degree is awarded at Purdue University Northwest; the new version will state they are awarded at Purdue Northwest.

Riley Owens, SGA president, said that he was pleased with today’s decision.

“This is a total victory for students, faculty and staff at PNW. There are no compromises, just two small changes to the diploma that do not affect how it was changed in the public eye,” Owens said.

It remains unclear what changes may occur to the Purdue Global diplomas.

Student Protests

Over 100 students and faculty gathered between Gyte and SUL on Oct. 1 to publicly protest the proposal to change diploma mastheads.

The protest began at the path between Gyte and SUL at 3 p.m. before slowly shifting over to Lawshe Hall, with many students holding signs expressing their opinions and chants in tow.

“Voices Over Degrees” was the slogan for the protest, being both shouted out throughout the event and used on social media to further rally supporters. There was no major police presence during the protest; however, Lawshe was on lockdown as the protest shifted over to that building. The protest ended at approximately 4:15 p.m.

Azalia Segura, visual communications and design major, said she was protesting to tell the administration that their “priorities are messed up.”

“I came to this university to get a Purdue degree; I don’t want to be looked upon as lesser compared to a Purdue West Lafayette student,” Segura said. “They should be making PNW students their number one priority.”

Jose Arteaga, communication major, said he agreed with the Chancellor’s message, but disagreed with the method of announcement.

“The decision did not have community input and was thrown out at students, faculty and staff,” Arteaga said. “If we learned anything about this situation, it is that there needs to be more transparency between administrators and faculty, staff, and students.”

James Schooley, Westville Senate President Pro-Tempore, said to the crowd during the protest that students have been left out of the decisionmaking process.

“Both Purdue North Central and Purdue Cal have provided Purdue degrees to all kinds of individuals in the region, from banking executives to business owners, from engineers to educators; all who have proudly represented the Purdue name in all walks of life. It is a source of pride for many Hoosiers and Chicagoans,” Schooley said.

Open Conversation

In response to the student protest, a university email was sent out on Oct. 1 inviting students, faculty and staff to a series of open conversations with Keon.

Students and concerned parents showed up en masse to the Oct. 4 and 5 conversations, which began with a presentation from Keon explaining the rationale behind the decision and clearing up some of the misconceptions surrounding the changes.

His biggest point was that people use degree and diploma interchangeably and that the degree itself will not be changing, but the diploma will receive an ornamental change. He pointed out to the students that despite what the diploma says, transcripts and curriculum vitaes will say PNW and PNW should be listed on resumes as well to avoid negative consequences during job interviews.

Keon said the decision on the changes was not finalized yet and would not be until the Oct. 12 Board of Trustees meeting, despite the language used in the university statement that seemed to indicate otherwise.

“I put it out in the most controversial manner because I know it would not generate discussion otherwise,” Keon said, admitting that his email was two weeks earlier than the board had allowed him to discuss the topic.

Keon said he was in favor of the students protesting the change. He also favored the idea to allow current students to graduate with the diploma they had been promised, while incoming freshmen would receive the newly changed diploma upon graduation.

“I’ve always thought it should have been phased in, so hearing it from you has just reinforced my argument all along,” Keon said. Rationale behind changes

Rationale behind changes

Keon said that this has been an ongoing discussion for seven months but that this decision was made in late summer.

During the April 6 Purdue Trustees meeting, Alberto Rodriguez, then chair of the Purdue Faculty Senate, first brought up that the board needed to discuss the impact of Purdue Global on the West Lafayette and regional campuses, which Keon said opened dialogue on the topic.

Keon said the discussion was in part because West Lafayette students felt that PNW and Purdue Fort Wayne should not receive the same diploma because curriculum is not the same and the purchase of Purdue Global being a tipping point in the argument. He noted that the discussions over changing the PNW and Purdue Fort Wayne diplomas did not take place at a public meeting, instead at a late summer executive session.

“What you have to understand is that the Board of Trustees spends a large amount of time on every issue but the information itself doesn’t usually surface until they make a decision,” Keon said.

In response to students’ anger and pressing on whether or not the university’s marketing mislead students, Keon agreed the university did and called it a bait-and switch.

“One of the things that was clear to me when I got to Northwest Indiana, and in the community, was a sense that you could go down the street and you would get a West Lafayette degree,” Keon said.

The chancellor also admitted that because of the misconceptions, he was especially concerned for international students.

“If you take that logic and extend it to overseas, it becomes more difficult to make a fine distinction between Purdue in West Lafayette and Purdue Northwest in Hammond. Purdue West Lafayette is an internationally recognized institution and that only makes people more easily confused,” Keon said.

Moving forward

Listening to students’ ideas, Keon wrote to the Board of Trustees to discuss delaying the changes until 2023 or potentially adding his own signature to diplomas as other institution systems similar to Purdue currently practice.

“I will fight for you,” Keon said.

He said that going forward, this notion needs to be made clear that PNW is not a satellite campus, but a separately accredited institution with its own assets.

“I believe there is a huge advantage to having PNW seen as a separate university so we do have areas of PNW known and recognized nationally and internationally,” Keon said.

The chancellor also said that he hopes people become motivated to begin correcting people on the diploma and is not sure whether the new changes will affect enrollment.

“If we lose some people due to letting them know it’s unfortunate, but it’s the ethical thing to do,” Keon said. “My hope is that the curriculum at PNW excites students; courses should be strong enough that graduates tell potential incoming students about them and it encourages them to become PNW students.”

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