"Hi everyone," the email to students begins. "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: You can't thank God. I'm sorry about this – and I don't want to have to outline the reasons why," Hvastkovs wrote.
The email made its way to Campus Reform, a website dedicated to advocating for students' rights. The professor confirmed that he wrote the email and explained that too many people took the opportunity to thank religious figures during last year's ceremony, which he did not feel was right.
"It's not a religious ceremony," he explained. "It's purely educational."
However, the school does not enforce this policy – it is strictly a departmental practice. The school as a whole allows students to thank whomever they wish during their commencement ceremony, following the guidelines of the First Amendment. Provost Marilyn Sheerer decided to write an email to those same students, advising them to disregard the professor's request.
"The First Amendment allows them to thank God, to thank any force or any individual that they so desire," Executive Director of Communication Mary Schulken told Campus Reform.
"Please disregard Dr. Hvastkov's previous email regarding your departmental graduation statement. Religious references of any type will not be restricted," Sheerer told the students in an email, "and the university will only limit these expressions as permitted by applicable First Amendment law. I regret that, without approval from the appropriate University officials, any other limitations were communicated to you. Thank you."