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 Lectures: Commencement Speakers
 A Disgraceful Exit
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The Great Pumpkin

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Posted - 2006 June 08 :  12:32:47  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
While the determination of the keynote speaker at graduation may seem unimportant, the selection of Mr. Levine was emblematic of his problems as dean. Generally, colleges select someone outside the college community to be the keynote speaker. The graduation ceremony is properly called commencement as it commences studentsí introduction to the real world; by selecting an outside speaker, colleges defer to the outside world and acknowledge that the college faculty are not the only ones imbued with wisdom. Early on, we were told that a search was being conducted for an outside speaker; Madeleine Albrightís name was even mentioned. However, the ultimate selection of outgoing college administrators at both campuses makes it doubtful that a serious search ever took place. People were disappointed when it was finally announced that the speaker would be a member of the college community, but this was alleviated by the fact that students would be allowed to nominate and vote on candidates. No one nominated Mr. Levine, but he was put on the ballot anyway; we were told that this was at President Petersí request. Mr. Levine came in dead last, yet the results were disregarded, and he became the keynote speaker.

He spoke on what a St. Johnís education should mean to the graduating class, yet the sad irony was that students do not feel that Mr. Levine was a positive part of their education. He maintained a hands-off approach toward students, failing to involve himself when assistant deans or tutors overstepped their bounds. Faculty members freely discuss his tendency to do as little as possible by delegating as much as he thought he could get away with. Meeting with Mr. Levine, impossible for a student without making an appointment several days in advance, is always a formal affair in which he says little and reveals none of his thoughts. On the few occasions that I spoke to him, I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. During his term as dean, Mr. Levine ignored most student concerns, yet his craving to speak at graduation indicates that he desires to be loved by the same students that he doesnít truly respect. He is like a dictator who believes himself to be a man of the people yet somehow doesnít understand why heís not popular. He held town hall meetings with the student body, yet students had to submit their questions in writing ahead of time, so he presumably avoided uncomfortable or surprise questions. There is no indication that these meetings influenced any of his decisions, nor was he ever up-front about why he wanted to be dean or in what direction he wanted to take the college. It was pretty clear to the entire college community that Mr. Levine did not want students to have any influence over college policy.

The question on everybodyís mind is why he would bother to go through the farce of holding an election for commencement speaker if he planned to ignore the results. Perhaps he genuinely believed that the students would vote for him; this shows how out of touch he really is. Itís sad for a leader to be hated, but it is sadder in many ways for a leader to be disregarded. Itís not surprising that those who were close friends of the people he hurt despise him, but itís very telling that someone can be dean for five years and acquire virtually no supporters. He wasted his opportunity to listen to students, so how can he be surprised now that students have no interest in what he has to say?

Perhaps Mr. Levineís greatest failure is that he doesnít realize that he is a failure. I have heard that Ms. Knight told him to resign his position as dean after the Mark St. John fiasco. I agree that that would have been an appropriate time for him to step down for the good of the college. He not only cost the college a vibrant athletic director who worked hard to make a genuine difference in studentsí lives but also put the college in the position where it had to buy Mr. St. Johnís silence in the vain hope of preventing the administrationís criminal spying from coming to light. Instead, Mr. Levine chose to finish his term as dean even though the faculty and staff no longer respected him. When he spoke at commencement, Mr. Levine repeated the same mistake. The election should have made it crystal clear to him that it was inappropriate for him to be the keynote speaker. This was not his moment but the class of 2006ís moment, and the senior class had judged and rejected him. Instead he chose to play the role of the buffoon when he could have allowed someone else to be the keynote speaker and thereby ended his term as dean with some small remnant of dignity.
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