Every finals season, frazzled organic chemistry students, along with countless other Columbia and Barnard students, gather in Butler Library to try and salvage their GPAs. And every semester since 1975, the night before the organic chemistry final, the Columbia University Marching Band storms Room 209 at midnight with a slew of controversial jokes and out-of-tune instrumentals. It is, without a doubt, a contentious event. But it is also one of the few traditions that has survived over the years on a campus known for its stress culture and lack of community.
This year, the administration has barred CUMB’s entry to Butler, and so the band instead will perform just outside, on the steps of the library. Provost John Coatsworth and University Librarian and Vice Provost Ann Thornton cite avoiding academic disruption as the reason for relocating Orgo Night. Regardless of the administration’s intent however, this is a dangerous step towards censorship and control over student forums and student traditions.
But this year, more than any other, it is crucial for Columbia to support, not inhibit, open forums of expression.
To be clear, Spectator understands the controversial nature of the CUMB scripts, and that many students, particularly underrepresented minorities, have experienced unease at the jokes made at Orgo Night. That being said, the band’s content should be dealt with between members of the student body and CUMB through community discourse, rather than a change enforced by the administration.
What we take issue with is the administration’s intervention in a campus tradition that provokes conversation and provides students with a sense of community across schools and generations—be that in the satirical bent of the jokes or the protests they incite, which have become traditions in and of themselves. What is at stake here is more than just tradition: The administration’s decision is an intrusion into a student-led platform for discourse.
When asked to provide further clarification on the decision, Coatsworth maintained that it was more about the disruption Orgo Night creates than its content, adding that “the jokes will be as funny as they always are, only the location will change.”
A tradition with a 41-year history is far from a spontaneous disruption—if anything, it is a perpetuation of continuity in tradition—and to claim that students would be irreparably distracted from their studying by a publicized event in a place they could easily avoid for one hour a semester is absurd.
We, Spectator’s 141st Editorial Board, have difficulty accepting this reasoning and ask that the administration allow CUMB to return to Butler 209 tonight.
If the administration fails to reconsider, before we know it, we’ll be facing campus-wide quiet hours to prevent Primal Scream.
The authors are members of Spectator’s 141st editorial board. Jessica Spitz and Aaron Holmes recused themselves from contributing to this editorial due to their continued coverage of Orgo Night.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.