Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Online graduate students feel isolated from Graduate School convocation, even after new accommodations made

Michele Pinilla

Graduate student Rick Gray purchased his cap and gown, booked a hotel and even sent out graduation invitations to his family, excitedly preparing for the master’s in Computer and Data Science Online program’s commencement ceremony in May.

He said the graduate school told students they would receive an official invitation in February, but when the time came, Gray and other graduate students received nothing. Gray said he wasn’t sure if he would even be able to walk across the stage.

In March, the University told Gray and the other online program students they could participate in the University-wide ceremony, but they would not be able to participate in the Graduate School convocation due to space constraints. 

The University eventually communicated the location for the online program’s in-person ceremony, but not without students feeling isolated in the process. 

“We were sort of left in the dark,” Gray said. “It was suddenly, ‘we’re not walking,’ and then it was ‘we’re separating the online students,’ and everybody still, even now, feels like that’s a bit unfair.” 

Eric Busch, director of Computer and Data Science Online, said in an email statement the program’s team anticipated the eventual need for a separate ceremony but did not foresee the current graduation dilemma.

“The announcement of (Computer and Data Science Online) ceremony plans came later than we would have wanted,” Busch said in the statement.

The Computer and Data Science Online program is a fully remote program including master’s degrees in data science, computer science and artificial intelligence. 

Gray took to social media to voice his concerns about the issue, gathering students to collectively relay their feelings to University administration, and he even created a petition.

“We didn’t even know where to start — the (graduation) coordinators (are) not really authorities on big matters like this, so we weren’t even sure who to communicate (with),” Gray said. “At a certain point, we started emailing everybody we could find in the directory who seemed like a reasonable person to reach out to, people who would respond to us in emails.”

Brent Winkelman, chief of staff for the Department of Computer Science, issued a follow-up on social media to Dean Sarah Ades’ email to the program’s students. He said the University’s intention is not to isolate online students.

“None of this reflects any philosophical position on the University’s part about online education,” Winkelman said in a social media thread. “It just means we’re so large that we’re presenting some unique logistical challenges to the University.”

The Computer and Data Science Online commencement ceremony now has a confirmed date of May 11; however, Gray said he and the soon-to-be graduates would prefer if students were grouped by college, instead of having a separate day for online students.

“We were told from the very beginning, all the marketing, everything that was explained to us was that this is a full degree; we get a diploma and everything,” Gray said. “This was probably the most difficult academic thing in my career, … so, to me, this was very much a ‘you just devalued my degree.’”

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