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Diploma change angers PNW students

October 4, 2018

WESTVILLE — Dozens of upset students gathered in the quad at Purdue University Northwest on Monday to protest the school’s decision to change the diplomas that graduates will receive beginning next spring.

Currently, students at PNW and other Purdue satellite campuses receive the same diplomas as those who graduate from the main campus in West Lafayette, all of which say “Purdue University” across the top.

However, starting in May 2019, PNW students’ diplomas will say “Purdue University Northwest”; and students at Purdue’s Fort Wayne and Global satellites will see their official school names reflected.

“This is an exciting step forward for Purdue Northwest,” PNW Chancellor Thomas Keon said in a statement issued Friday.

“Everything we do as a comprehensive university to ensure the success of our graduates – from high-quality teaching and scholarship, to a robust campus community, to a growing alumni network – is now further reflected in our diploma.”

Ashley Gerodimos, executive director of PNW’s alumni community, is quoted in the statement as having said, “The pride felt among current and former graduates of our institution runs deep. To fully distinguish Purdue Northwest on our diplomas going forward strengthens the bonds of those of us who have had the PNW experience.”

But Gerodimos’ perspective does not reflect that of all alumni, according to Hannah Lawrence, who volunteered to lead the protest at the Westville campus.

Lawrence, who graduated from PNW with a degree in biology and has returned to pursue a second degree, stood atop a picnic table and rallied the crowd with chants of: “Our degree, leave it be!”

Some students held up handmade posters with slogans like, “We are the same Purdue” and “Give me a Purdue degree or I’m going to IU.”

Many who were present signed a petition that was being passed around the crowd; and an online petition opposing the name change had garnered more than 12,000 signatures by the time the protest started Monday afternoon.

“The board of trustees felt that any satellite campuses … did not meet the social standards that a Purdue degree comes with,” Lawrence said, “and they felt that we didn’t deserve it as much. So, they decided without any student input that we should have our own degree.”

Senior Caitlyn “Caty” Swan, president of PNW’s honors college, said she believes all current PNW students should be “grandfathered in” to receive the Purdue University degree if they want it.

“It’s inequitable to take an illustrious degree such as Purdue University, which is recognized worldwide, and replace it with one such as Purdue Northwest, which has never existed before – it’s never been out in the world of employers – and expect us to feel like we’re still getting the same thing that we were promised,” Swan said.

“… I understand the change; it’s a smart move for the university. But if you’re going to make a promise to the students as they come in, then you need to uphold that promise until they graduate.”

In the university’s statement, however, Ralph Mueller, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said, “Employers already look for the expertise of PNW students and graduates.

“A clearly defined Purdue University Northwest diploma enhances the proud tradition of earning a degree from PNW’s many quality, and nationally recognized, academic programs.”

But junior Zachary Jakubowski, speaker of the house for PNW’s student government, said the name change could impact graduates’ future incomes, potentially causing them to be paid lower salaries than their counterparts whose diplomas list Purdue University at the top.

Jakubowski said students were “completely blindsided on Friday morning” when they received an email notifying them of the decision to alter the diplomas.

He plans to attend the Oct. 12 meeting of the Purdue University Board of Trustees in West Lafayette to provide student feedback documenting their opposition.

Riley Owens, student body president at PNW, said he will attend the meeting as well. His hope is for a reversal of the decision, but said he’s prepared to compromise as long as current students are allowed to receive the Purdue University diploma they were told they would get when they enrolled.

Throughout Monday’s protest, Owens maintained contact with student leaders at PNW’s Hammond campus, where a larger crowd was protesting the name change simultaneously.

“It’s great to see students doing this,” he said. “Before this event, these two campuses have been pretty divided, and that division has been felt … But this event, as unfortunate as it is, is bringing this university together as it should have been since Day 1.”

As of Friday afternoon, more than 15,000 people had signed the “Keep the Purdue degree at PNW” petition at Change.org.

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