For the first time in over 30 years, USF students won’t be using cap and gowns produced by the family-owned regalia manufacturer Oak Hall in the winter commencement ceremonies as the bookstore changed vendors.
Follett, the company that runs USF’s bookstore, adopted Herff Jones, a company that sells educational recognition products, and Jostens, a manufacturer of memorabilia such as class rings and yearbooks, as the preferred graduation and regalia vendors for its partner institutions. Herff Jones already produced class rings for the bookstore, but Oak Hall was in charge of caps and gowns.
The change, according to USF Bookstore Director Nando Padula, was made to identify only one vendor per school for regalia, rings, announcements and frames used in graduation ceremonies.
“By consolidating the graduation business to one vendor per school, Follett can partner with both the campus and vendor to optimize and streamline customer service and product offerings,” Padula said. “Students, parents and faculty will not have to go through multiple vendors to fulfill their graduation needs.”
Although the transition to Herff Jones started in spring, the bookstore will start selling caps and gowns for the upcoming winter commencement, which will take place sometime between Dec. 10 and 13, according to Padula. He said the change won’t affect the pricing of regalia for students.
Padula said Follett went through a request for proposal process with regalia vendors to decide the preferred ones. Oak Hall participated and its bid was reviewed and considered, Padula said, but it didn’t offer all the commencement items Follett wanted.
“Oak Hall manufactures caps, gowns, tassels and stoles and does not produce rings, announcements or frames,” Padula said. “Due to their assortment limitations, we were not able to move forward with their proposal and ultimately could not select them as a preferred vendor.”
The Office of the President approved the samples from Herff Jones last spring to make sure they were up to standard before the final approval, according to Padula. Campus partners such as the Alumni Association and Business Office were also consulted to make the decision. In August, the final samples were approved.
Padula said the change of vendors was communicated to Oak Hall last fall. However, Paul LaRoche, southeast territory manager for Oak Hall, said USF Bookstore Department Manager Byran Bell called to tell him about the change Sept. 14. He said the short notice disappointed him.
“This decision has been in the works for a year, when we’ve already been on USF’s campus, three times in the month of August, and nobody [told them],” LaRoche said. “It’s just the lack of respect.”
After he received the call, LaRoche said he contacted Travis Miller, associate director of commencement, to learn more about the situation and was told that former President Steven Currall greenlit the change. He said USF’s leadership didn’t show resistance to the change which frustrated him.
“That frustrated me a little bit. I talked to Travis on a regular basis, especially when we just had a commencement a month ago, that this had already been in movement, and I wasn’t sure why there was the whole secrecy of it,” LaRoche said. “Why Oak Hall was never invited to have a conversation about a possible change, and different things we could do to earn and secure a place here.”
Travis Holsclaw, employee at Oak Hall and USF alum, said the image of the university could be damaged due to the change. For commencement ceremonies, students used to be able to borrow caps and gowns from alumni who graduated in previous years, but now the vestiment wouldn’t be consistent.
“Their regalia is not going to look identical to ours,” Travis Holsclaw said. “So any student that’s going to borrow someone else’s regalia is going to look out of place. I don’t know how that’s going to work.”
The manufacture team at Oak Hall produced about 4,500 gowns for USF’s winter commencement throughout April and May.
“We always produce 20% more, so there’s never a window or an error, where if you know the bookstore doesn’t order enough or the university has a bump in enrollments for that particular graduating class, that we’re not caught off guard and we can still ship in two days,” LaRoche said.
He asked the university if Oak Hall’s regalia could be used this fall to at least go through the gowns that were produced. If it isn’t approved, LaRoche said the fabric can be recycled.
“All the Herff Jones gowns for USF will be manufactured in Arcola and Champaign, Illinois carrying on the ‘Made in the USA’ tradition,” Padula said. “The university’s commencement image will be preserved with the transition to Herff Jones. Follett and Herff Jones are excited to partner with USF on this amazing opportunity.”
Padula said the bookstore will move forward with Herff Jones for winter commencement. In the eyes of Oak Hall, the situation is unprofessional.
“Oak Hall has been a partner with USF for over 30 years, my boss has been serving as the [representative] for the past 10 years or so, I’ve been helping him for the past, probably four,” Holsclaw said. “We pride the regalia and we’ve been a partner for so long. To suddenly just drop us like that, it’s frankly completely unprofessional.”