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ECU Professor Bans Students From Thanking God in Graduation Personal Statements

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May 6, 2014|4:42 pm
East Carolina University (Screenshot: Campus31/YouTube)

Dr. Eli Hvastkovs, an assistant professor of chemistry at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., has barred students from thanking God in personal statements at this Friday's graduation ceremony.

In an email sent Thursday to chemistry majors, Hvastkovs reminded students to submit a "personal statement that thanks someone or tells us your future plans." After receiving submissions that "needed to be edited," Hvastkovs provided four guidelines. The top guideline read:

"1. You can't thank God. I'm sorry about this - and I don't want to have to outline the reasons why."

Other guidelines advise students to write in the third person and to keep the statements brief and "family friendly."

In an interview with Campus Reform, Hvastkovs acknowledged his ban was not school policy.

In response to the ban, ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer sent an email to chemistry majors, instructing them to ignore the professor's embargo on mentioning God in personal statements. She wrote:

"Please disregard Dr. Hvastkovs's previous email regarding your departmental graduation statement he sent to you on May 1, 2014 at 8:00:59 PM EDT. I have confirmed with the Chair of the Department of Chemistry that students may submit personal statements, up to 35 words, to be read during the departmental ceremony. These statements can be your personal expressions and as such the University will only limit these expressions, as permitted by applicable First Amendment law."

The school further confirmed their stance in a statement to the media:

"We believe by allowing the students to submit a personal statement for reading during a departmental graduation ceremony, the university creates a forum for student expression. As such, the university regrets that, without approval from the appropriate university officials, other limitations and instructions were communicated to participating students in one department."

Click here to read Provost Sheerer's email and ECU's official statement.

Here is the text of the original email from Dr. Eli Hvastkovs:

Hi everyone. Just a reminder to everyone (undergraduate majors) that if you are planning on being at the graduation ceremony, you can provide me with a personal statement that thanks someone or tells us your future plans. I've had some submissions that needed to be edited. so here are some guidelines:

1. You can't thank God. I'm sorry about this - and I don't want to have to outline the reasons why.
2. Provide me something written in the 3rd person. Think that someone will read this, it won't be you.
3. Keep it brief. I didn't give you a real word limit, but at max think 35 words. We do have time to read these but it can't be a paragraph (we've had some).
4. Keep it family friendly, and not gross. (Had one that was).

Thanks - I hope everyone understands these guidelines.

Eli Hvastkovs, PhD.
Asst. Professor
Dept. of Chemistry
East Carolina University


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