Following the lead of Wall Street and the banking industry, students at Syracuse University are looking for a bailout: Save them from the university's choice of commencement speaker.
They don't want Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, to speak at the May 16 ceremony.
"The Daily Orange," the student newspaper, has run letters and editorials pro and con, and a group called Take Back Commencement has attracted nearly 900 members to its Facebook page.
Today, the tension escalated as Take Back Commencement staged a dance-party protest at 2 p.m. on the stairs of the university's Hendricks Chapel. The group of roughly 60 protestors carried signs reading "Power to the People" and "No Corporate Commencement" as they chanted, "Stop the profit war on people," and other mantras expressing their discontent with the commencement speaker.
"We feel as though it's a little bit insensitive given the current financial climate that many of the banks caused the United States to have someone who is a representative of that industry come and speak to a graduating class and to an audience full of parents and relatives that are there on our behalf," said senior Audra Coulombe, a co-organizer of Take Back Commencement. "They've all been suffering and these past two years have not been very kind to them."
Gary Stefanski was one of the few students at the protest in favor of having Dimon speak at commencement. "I think that due to the way that he's run JP Morgan throughout this crisis that he's been able to really pull them through and make them one of the greatest bank industries," said Stefanski, a senior finance major.
Students chanting "Off the sidewalk, onto the stairs," encouraged passersby to join them on the steps of the chapel, using buckets, pots, and even a tuba to draw in people walking through the university.
Even Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor stopped by Hendricks Chapel to hear students protesting her decision to invite Dimon to speak at commencement. "I fully understand these students' distress and I embrace their right to protest," she said. Cantor, however, is not rescinding Dimon's invitation.
"We want a commencement speaker who can inspire rather than draw criticism and infuriate people," Mariel Fiedler, a senior and co-organizer of Take Back Commencement, told ABCNews.com. "It's a day of celebration, and he brings a lot of heartache to a lot of people by what he represents."
A representative for JPMorgan declined to comment directly to ABCNews.com. But Dimon told a group of reporters on a conference call about first-quarter earnings Thursday that he could "completely understand that some people may be opposed to" his Syracuse appearance, according to Bloomberg Business Week. "People should stand up for what they believe in. I applaud that some folks there want to stand up for something different."
In a letter to "The Daily Orange," Fiedler and two other seniors referred to Dimon as one of the "crooks of the old age who value personal gain above a collective prosperity."
"While we know JPMorgan Chase was forced to accept bailout money and repaid it in full," they wrote, "the bank and its officials still represent a system that is failing the American people. Although Dimon humored us by adopting a $1 salary, he also took about $17 million in bonuses for 2009. ... Wall Street bonuses jumped about 17 percent, while unemployment hovers around 10 percent."