SAIS Waited Months to Communicate Vendor Change to Students


SAIS administration officials waited more than a month to inform students that a change in regalia vendors would render previously purchased graduation gowns obsolete, according to a meeting between students and the administration.

SAIS Events Director Kelly Hunter was notified by the Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus that the university would change graduation gown providers in July, when Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels replaced former supplier Herff Jones in favor of Oak Hall.

Hunter opted not to notify students in July as the SAIS administration did not have a clear idea on cost changes or if older uniforms would be outmoded. JHU administration from Homewood notified Hunter of the change in design and price point of $90 and that Herff Jones gowns were no longer acceptable on Sept. 13. Hunter ultimately informed the SAIS student body of the change via email on Oct. 25, sparking backlash at the D.C. campus.

Second-year Latin American studies concentrator Pui Shen Yoong launched a successful petition, convincing SAIS to respond to the increasing dissatisfaction felt on campus. While Yoong primarily aimed to address the lack of communication between students and administration, she also called for compensation for students who had already acquired gowns.

Yoong and Student Government Association President Nathasha Soon and met with SAIS administration officials including Student Life Representative Khorey Baker, Kelly Hunter and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Noemi Crespo Rice on Nov. 1.

At the meeting, Yoong and President Soon raised the importance of communicating more frequently and ‘closing the loop’ on SAIS initiatives such as the removal of dining dollars and a lack of transparency in course-listings more than a single semester out.

Shen noted that the administration seemed receptive to the feedback and appreciated the formalization of the complaint into a petition. She called for broader engagement with the SAIS student body by the administration and has seen encouraging signs with Dean Nasr’s coffee hour being moved to the afternoon. At the meeting, the administration resolved to reimburse any students who own a full set of the previous year’s gowns for $45, provided they are turned in by Dec. 1.

(Photo Courtesy: Andrew Petrelli)

While communication between the administration and students was one of Yoong’s greatest concerns, SAIS has been more transparent than other Johns Hopkins entities, communicating regalia changes before either the Carey Business School or the Homewood Campus has to its undergraduate and graduate students.

In fact, as of Nov. 14, both the Herff Jones website and the Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences website indicate Herff Jones as the primary vendor for graduation gowns. The Herff Jones website also apparently allows one to order Johns Hopkins regalia, although the SAIS Observer has not been able to confirm if such an order will be honored.

When contacted, the Johns Hopkins Bookstore responsible for graduation regalia in Baltimore did not provide a comment on the change in vendors. A Herff Jones representative contacted by the Observer indicated that they had lost Johns Hopkins as a client during the summer.

The timeline of the vendor change shows communication delays between Homewood and SAIS. Bids from vendors were delivered to JHU’s Baltimore campus in February/March of this year, according to a source familiar with the matter. But the relevant authorities at SAIS reportedly had not been notified until April, according to a source. Due to the university-wide acquisition process, vendor decisions for SAIS are primarily dictated by the university administrators in Baltimore.

The decision to go with Oak Hall, according to Kelly Hunter’s email, is partially due to the environmental factors of the GreenWeaver line offered by the firm. This is connected to the sustainability program implemented by Johns Hopkins and extended to SAIS.

Correction: An earlier edition of this article said that Yoong “solicited the support of Student Government Association President Nathasha Soon,” when in fact the SAIS student government independently supported Yoong’s petition. The SAIS Observer regrets the error. 

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