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Sunday, July 7, 2013
Surely, by now, the jokes have been exhausted. After all, nearly two weeks have passed since we learned about the embarrassing misspellings on Radford University diplomas issued in December and May.
Everyone wants to be a comedian, especially in an age when 140-character Twitter spasms pass for conversation. And when a state university hands out diplomas with the word “Virginia” spelled incorrectly, the one-liners almost write themselves.
There’s no way for the Radford administration to put a positive spin on this. It can only try to right the wrong, accept responsibility and move forward. In a message to alumni last weekend, President Penelope Kyle apologized for “the embarrassment this has caused the RU family” and said the university is investigating to determine if other graduates have diplomas with defects.
If I could remember which storage box I packed it in before moving this spring, I might have checked my own 1989 Radford diploma at that point. But enough is enough.
Radford will take its lumps for this mishap. The university should have taken greater care in preparing the most important documents it issues. But the only victims in this tale of woe are the graduates who received flawed diplomas after all of their hard work. They will get new, corrected certificates, suitable for framing. And their value isn’t diminished by an administrative gaffe that made their alma mater the butt of jokes.
It’s not like this sort of thing hasn’t happened elsewhere. In 1990, a certain institution in Annapolis, Md., awarded diplomas to graduates of the “Navel Academy.” A Los Angeles Times headline about the snafu read: “ ‘Navel Academy’ Grads Belly Up for Diplomas.” I bet many of those midshipmen kept the misprints as souvenirs after getting new diplomas. And the U.S. Naval Academy is no worse for any short-term embarrassment it suffered.
Just last week, the Florida Department of Transportation had to replace an interstate exit sign directing motorists to the University of North “Flordia” and the “Flordia” State College South Campus. Yes, Florida was misspelled twice on the same sign. The highway department assigned blame to a contractor in Arkansas.
In 12 years of covering state government, I saw faulty proofreading produce red faces in some high places in Richmond. In 2004, the General Assembly decided to clean up an antiquated section of the state code and inadvertently repealed a decades-old provision exempting private businesses from a law that guaranteed workers a “day of rest” on Saturdays or Sundays. Gov. Mark Warner, who had signed the bill into law, had to call the assembly back into a one-day special session to fix it.
In 2007, Virginia reopened the doors to its state Capitol after a $104.5 million renovation and expansion. The first sign installed on a glass door at the building’s new underground entrance welcomed visitors to the “Captiol.” It was quickly replaced.
Sometimes typos have costly consequences. In Prince William County, a staffer’s data entry error left a $5 million shortfall in the new county budget. It’s a small hole in a $961.5 million spending plan, but big enough to cause headaches for county supervisors.
These examples won’t make the Radford administration feel any better. But the university shouldn’t allow the diploma blunder to overshadow the good stories it has to tell.
The graduates who earned those degrees surely won’t let the mishap tarnish their achievement. Here’s hoping their college experience is a springboard to great things, and that they have the last laugh.
CLARIFICATION: An editorial in The Burgs on June 30 stated that Christiansburg police had assigned an officer to Falling Branch Elementary School because of concerns related to a nearby park and ride lot. The assignment was a temporary measure to address parents’ concerns about bus passengers trying to access school facilities. It ended in May after the Montgomery County school system assigned private security to the school.
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