Opinion | Staff Editorials

Get on my lawn

  • capture the flag | Students enjoy a sunny day on South Field when the flag is green.

It was a gorgeous start to the week, as beautiful as spring can get in New York City. Our campus is fortunate enough to have large swaths of green grass and a dedicated Facilities staff that maintains them tirelessly throughout the year. This is the season in which we can take advantage of our beautiful campus. It’s also the season many bemoan the lawns’ being, more often than not, closed to students.

As we’ve watched these red flags fly, we can’t help but wonder: why?

The most commonly heard reason for prohibiting lawn access is the need to keep the grass healthy and pristine. This explanation, as most of us have griped about at one point or another, doesn’t hold up. Even if thousands of students used the lawns each week, would they really be reduced to a barren wasteland? If the lawns are kept in such great shape for students’ enjoyment, shouldn’t we actually be able to enjoy them?

The argument that the lawns need protection during this time is invalid. Regardless of how much we use them, the annual destruction of the lawns is imminent. As part of the Commencement festivities, the lawns will be covered with green AstroTurf for dinners and ceremonies. By the end of this turfing, the green grass will be dead, soon to be replaced with new sod or cordoned off and allowed to regrow. The University is willing to turn the lawns into a desert for graduation, but it won’t allow students to throw a Frisbee around or do some reading outside on a warm spring day because the lawns have to be preserved.

Obviously, there are times when Facilities must rope off the grass for fertilizer or pesticide application. But in our last weeks on campus, we should have a place to relax and soak up the sun every day. (Well, weather-permitting.)

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Alex A. Van Adzin, College Class of 1975 posted on

In defense of the current lawn-maintenance practices, you should know that when the lawns were unrestricted, they inevitably deteriorated into enormous, ghastly expanses of dirt and mud at the heart of campus and made a truly regrettable impression on all who viewed them, including prospective students and parents and the University's many other visitors. Campus maintenance is a good thing, and Columbia looks 10,000 times better these days with a focal spot consisting of grass fields instead of dust-bowls.

The University's next step ought to be to address the longstanding and unacceptably substandard maintenance of its buildings. Peeling and stained paint, aging fixtures, worn woodwork, cracked masonry floors, and a generally disheveled appearance everywhere, inside and out, with the only exception being recently constructed buildings because they don't yet need any care.

I occasionally visit campus and make an inspection. One spot that I always check, as a telling sample, is the window sill outside the Trustees room in Low Library on the front face of the University's centerpiece building. The Trustees' Room! Given that this is the power apex of the entire enterprise, one would expect that Columbia could afford enough paint and expend enough attention to maintain at least this single piece of "high-visibility" trim.

On a visit last month, I looked at this spot again and found, to my continuing disappointment but not surprise, that the Trustees' window sill was still, as it has been on my previous visits, covered in ugly chipped paint. Don't any of the people whose job is to maintain Columbia's facilities, let along the University's senior managers, see these things? And, if they do, what's the explanation?

I've concluded that somehow the inability to maintain facilities, and the accompanying obliviousness about how to present an institution to the watching world, is just baked into Columbia's DNA at a fundamental level. Just not a priority etc. OK, fine, but Columbia people should realize that not everyone shares this point of view, and that some people assess a place, in part, on its fit and finish because that reflects how the place goes about doing its business more generally. Is it organized and well managed, or something else?

I have gone to, and worked and been a parent at, four of the other Ivies and one Seven Sisters school. Four of them have immaculately maintained campuses against which Columbia's doesn't come anywhere close to matching, in terms of physical condition (not architectural quality). The fifth used to be a laggard, but even it, despite having less financial strength, has recently begun to address this shortcoming to its credit.

McKim, Mead, and White endowed our university with a magnificent architectural legacy, and the standard of MMW's construction was truly top-shelf. But even that can only be stretched so far in maintenance terms. Columbia seems content to rest on the original MMW physical endowment, and let the place indolently subside into a inexcusably sad condition.

Such a shame, and so many examples of others with similar resources doing so much better at the same task.

Kudos to Facilities for the things that they are doing right such as the maintenance of South Field. More needs to be done. Put some paint on that window sill before the next Trustees' meeting. Please!

99% posted on

Literally just donate some of your money you rich, lifeless fuck.