Overheard at UC Berkeley post generates premature reactions to campus fundraising effort

Berkeley graduates sit in their caps and gowns facing away from the camera.
Audrey McNamara/File

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Students were outraged when a photo, posted Tuesday on the Overheard at UC Berkeley Facebook page, seemingly offered parents the opportunity to pay $250 to have their students’ names on the spring 2019 commencement program’s “honor roll.” The letter, however, is not what it was initially perceived to be.

Campus senior and former Daily Californian news reporter Jared Brewer posted the photo, originally posted by his mom on her personal Facebook account. The original photo read: “Honor your Berkeley graduate with a gift of $250 or more by April 26 for Honor Roll listing in the Spring 2019 Commencement program.”

While many students initially believed that their parents would have to pay for their spots on the academic honor roll, campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore clarified that while the letter was a fundraising campaign, it was not to be confused with the academic honor roll.

“For parents who donate more than $250 the parent’s name will be listed on a page in the commemorative booklet circulated at commencement,” Gilmore said in an email. “This is referred to as an “honor roll,” list, which is not to be confused with any honor roll in the academic sense, but to honor their student and their time here.”

Brewer said he did not expect the reactions that his post received. In a little more than 24 hours, 1,500 people reacted to the photo, and nearly 300 commented on it. UC Berkeley alumnus Christopher Lan was one of the 300 commentators.

“Just based on the picture the person shared, I thought the university was charging $250 for graduates to have their names listed on the honor roll during commencement,” Lan said in an email. “I couldn’t have believed the university would charge money for students’ names to be listed, and was incredibly shocked. No one should have to pay to have their merit-based accomplishments recognized during graduation.”

In retrospect, Brewer said he felt guilty for “jumping on the bandwagon” and posting the photo before investigating further. While Brewer takes responsibility for “fann(ing) the flame,” he said the letter is still problematic and believes that the campus should rectify the confusion by reaching out to the campus community.

“At best, it’s grossly misleading,” Brewer said. “Why call it an honor roll if it’s not the conventional honor roll that people think about?”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.