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UMass Dartmouth boosts security for graduation

The University of Massachusetts ­Dartmouth is bolstering security for commencement this weekend, boosting police presence, prohibiting bags and backpacks, and limiting admission to two guests per graduate.

The new admissions policy for Sunday’s ceremonies, with an expected crowd of 10,000, has disappointed some students and parents. But the school says such steps are necessary in light of the Boston Marathon bombings.

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“Any significant change in the plan is going to generate some reaction, but people understand the world we’re living in,” university spokesman John Hoey said. “In general, people have been very understanding about it. They know we’re trying to keep the event safe.”

The extra security measures are similar to those taken by other area colleges, including Northeastern University, after last month’s bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260.

The public university, where bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student, has been under a spotlight since the attack and came under scrutiny for its academic and financial policies.

Tsarnaev, 19, who was a sophomore, had reportedly failed numerous classes and had an unpaid bill of more than $20,000.

Three former classmates have been charged with trying to cover up Tsarnaev’s involvement in the deadly attack.

Guests at graduation are prohibited from bringing in a range of items, including gift bags and wrapped presents, and all items are subject to search. In contrast to previous years, when graduates and guests could enter the Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial ­Amphitheater from many points, access will be restricted to two main entrances.

“We needed to secure that perimeter and regulate entry into the amphitheater,” Hoey said.

The university e-mailed graduates last week and others, including parents, this week about the two-guest maximum. Students picked up tickets this week.

The amphitheater seats 4,500. As in previous years, the rest of the crowd will watch a live feed of the event from a large tent beside the venue.

“In the past, it’s been first come, first served, but it seems as if the crowd gets bigger every year,” Hoey said. “We wanted to minimize congestion at the ­entrances. That’s a safety ­imperative.”

As attendance has climbed, more families have been shut out of the ceremony, Hoey said. The ticket system guarantees that every student will have family members watch them graduate.

Joshua Encarnacion, a student trustee, said students are divided on the new system. Those with large families have voiced some disappointment. But with a growing student body and a fixed amount of space, the change “only makes sense,” he said.

Graduate students get their degrees Saturday, and more than 1,300 undergraduates will receive theirs the next morning.

This week, the US Department of Education denied the university’s request to release Tsarnaev’s student records, citing federal privacy law.

“It appears that the academic and financial records that have been requested would be protected by [federal law] and that the university may not ­release them without the consent of the student,” a department official wrote.

The university said it “will continue to be transparent with the public while complying with federal and state law.”

The university had asked federal education officials to ­determine whether an exception could be made, given the unusual circumstances.

“We recognize our obligation to be good stewards of public ­resources,” said university chancellor Divina ­Grossman.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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