North Texas Daily

Administrators chose Abbott, not students

Administrators chose Abbott, not students

Administrators chose Abbott, not students
April 14
00:05 2015

The Editorial Board

The North Texas Daily recently published an in-depth news article regarding the student protests to Gov. Greg Abbott’s commencement announcement. It raised questions about the process of selecting the governor, which we will continue to seek insight on.

Samantha McDonald, who has been accepted into the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, reported the involvement  the SGA leadership had in planning for the commencement speaker. It turned out, as SGA president Kam Willard put it, “Greg Abbott was never one of the people mentioned in conversations” — at least the conversations involving Willard and former SGA president Troy Elliott.

Read what Elliott said.

“An email was already sent out saying that this [Michael J. Fox] is probably going to be the commencement speaker, but then out of the blue, we get a very general announcement that was sent to the whole student body that Gov. Greg Abbott is actually to be the speaker. That was never even discussed by the actual committee.”

Both Elliott, the president at the time, and Willard, who was the vice president, should have been included in every aspect of the commencement selection. UNT president Neal Smatresk and the committee must improve efforts in the future to incorporate student opinion in the commencement speaker selection.


First, because neither Elliott nor Willard are to graduate this spring, though we do not question their accountability. As student body leaders, their involvement has merit but more graduating students should be in direct affiliation with the decision.

This raises the next question. Why, if the student response has been largely — though not entirely — negative, does the administration remain steadfast to the governor? The student response is only intensified when you recall what Elliott and Willard had to say. So, if the two who represented the students were not entirely included and the student body now refuses the governor, the administration should continue to reexamine the views and stances of students in relation to the speaker.

Willard said it best: “I knew there was going to be turmoil on the campus just because I know that there are students who are completely against Greg Abbott’s ideas as governor.”

Graduates are entitled to have an immediate influence on their commencement speaker. And UNT, nor any institution, ought never exclude that. A certain level of miscommunication occurred throughout the process, but that is not to say Smatresk or the committee intentionally neglected student voice.

Smatresk has pitched Abbott as a bold, new opportunity for UNT. And he is correct. “I think it’s wonderful that he’s going to be here, and it also could create an opportunity for a healthy dialogue,” he said.

Indeed, a dialogue has begun on campus. Dissent encourages discussion. A university should always cultivate discussion. Political discourse is always appropriate, even when tensions are high, such as they are now with the state and industry battle against the hydraulic fracturing ban and other issues.

The administration has also characterized the move as one beneficial to UNT’s marketing success. Again, logical, and we agree. As we begin our 125th year as a university, a visit from the governor might announce UNT’s significance.

But serving as governor does not warrant the need to supersede the desires of students. Abbott has no political jurisdiction here if students downright object to his message.

The Distinguished Lecture Series has a track record of inviting speakers who students flock to. George Takei? Steve Wozniak? John Legend? It is clear little to no DSL suggestion was included with Abbott. In the future, the Lecture Series should be more closely involved in the planning.

We encourage the administration make the speaker selection a more democratic and representative process. UNT should also continue its initiative to create discussion, as apparent with the governor.

What is most important is to rank UNT’s image behind the hard work and achievement of the graduates. The event is about the graduates. Administrators have to plan for the future, and prestigious speakers sometimes help recruitment, but a graduation ceremony is time to reward the graduates.

Never, on this campus, nor at any university across the globe, should the views of students be secondary to the business sense of university administrators. Students didn’t nominate Abbott, UNT administrators did.

Featured Image: Gov. Gregg Abbott speaks at Texas Rally for Life. Those who gathered rallied against the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that made abortion legal for the entire duration of a woman’s pregnancy. Photo courtesy of

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