Tuesday, May 2, 2017

In Defense of Orgo Night #12
Low Library Speaks;
but chooses not to be honest with alumni

               On April 27, exactly one week before the spring Orgo Night show, which will be performed outside Butler Library because the Marching Band remains banned from performing the show in its traditional location inside the College Reading Room, Hamiltonius at last received a response from the Columbia administration.  After ten essays and one open letter to President Bollinger, the powers that be decided that some acknowledgement and response was necessary.  The email from Columbia is reprinted below, followed by our reply:

April 27, 2017.  1:13 p.m.

Dear Alumni,

We have read all of the Hamiltonius emails and appreciate that the concerns you expressed originate from a depth of caring about the Columbia community.

The University has been working steadily to build a stronger sense of community for all Columbians.  Moving the Orgo Night event out of the library is compatible with making the campus and its traditions serve all its students.  For some students, Orgo Night is an appreciated stress-relieving break from their studies.  For some others, it is an externally imposed disruption that is a source of stress.  We recognize that there are strongly held views about preserving the Orgo Night tradition in its entirety, and adjusting the tradition is difficult.  We also appreciate your feedback on the decision-making process we followed and are now working closely with the student members of the Band on future Orgo Nights.

In providing the Band with alternative settings where the Orgo Night tradition can continue, we hope to accommodate everyone who wishes to be part of the event and ensure that it is a choice for students about whether or not to participate.  It is with the differing needs and interests of students in mind that we have taken this step.   The Band continues to be an integral and valued part of Columbia.

John H. Coatsworth, Provost
Amelia Alverson, Executive Vice President for University Development and Alumni Relations
Ann Thornton, Vice Provost and University Librarian


            The Columbia administration finally responded to our series of essays.  Perhaps this was prompted by continued press coverage on campus and by continued inquiries and expressions of concern by scores of alumni.  It seems clear from the list of persons copied on the email that it was intended both to tamp down concern among Trustees, faculty, and alumni groups and to get a positive message out to the university press corps – being specifically sent to Bwog and Spectator.  But the reply fails to address the substantive issues raised in our essays.

Even more disappointing is the statement by the administration that “we are now working closely with the student members of the Band on future Orgo Nights.”  This statement is not true.  It is “fake news.”  Bwog immediately reported that the Band had heard nothing from the administration about the scheduled May 4th Orgo Night show or about the long-term future of the tradition.  The Band released its own statement on the subject on May 2, confirming the absence of any engagement by university administrators.  We are saddened, but not shocked, by this prevarication.

            Why would President Bollinger and Dean Valentini – through this surrogated email – make such an obviously false statement?   Do they think that we are not in communication with the current Band leaders?  Do they think they can publish their letter in the next issue of Columbia College Today to rebut the letter in the current issue from leaders of the Band Alumni Association and pull the wool over the eyes of alumni around the world?  Do they really think that by falsely stating that they are engaged in a constructive process, they can avoid actually doing so?  The administration seems to think that students and alumni alike are to be treated like toddlers, who can be placated with soothing words spoken in a kind voice regardless of actual facts.  President Bollinger and Dean Valentini have apparently decided that suppressing Orgo Night is worth alienating hundreds of Columbia alumni and future alumni (as the Dean likes to call them) across the generations.

            The response from Low Library does acknowledge, although only inferentially, that the true motivation behind the administration’s action is to suppress content in the Orgo Night show about which “some” students have complained, and which causes these students “stress.”  As we have noted in an earlier essay, there is no evidence that any students have ever complained that they feel “stress” because of the need to find an alternate study space for that particular 45 minutes once per semester.  There is no evidence that any student has ever been surprised by the appearance of the Band in the College Reading Room on Orgo Night.  All evidence is to the contrary, and the administration’s reply email does not even assert the existence of any such actual complaints, which confirms our prior conclusion.

            There is, in the administration’s response, a grudging acknowledgement that the original decision’s lack of any public discussion or process was a mistake, but that acknowledgement is followed immediately by the false claim that the administration is now trying to “work with” the Band.

            Where does this now leave us?  No discussions have been initiated with alumni (either the Band Alumni Association or our Hamiltonius group) or with the Band’s student leaders.  The spring Orgo Night show will once again take place outside Butler.  Is this the “new tradition” that the administration wants?  It may work in May, but in December weather the outdoor performance is not a good, or reasonable, long-term solution.

            Perhaps the administration thinks that its disingenuous email will placate the many concerned alumni and make us (finally) go away quietly.  They are, again, entirely mistaken.

-        Hamiltonius
-  H