On the morning of Dec. 24, 2009, luggage-bearing Columbians forsaken by the lunar calendar slogged through the icy sewage moats surrounding the blocks along Broadway toward taxis to carry them homeward. The examination schedule had condemned them to a Dec. 23 afternoon with a blue book, and now—wearied, worn, and wretched—they made their undignified exodus from Morningside Heights.
For some, the journey would be over in time for dinner that evening. For others, like myself, it would not. Flights across the country on Christmas Eve only become affordable when they arrive late enough that no one else wants to take them. Alas, such is the fate of the underemployed college student, and so many a discontented Columbian toughed it out with neither fanfare nor protest.
But this spring, a coalition of students, many of whom I imagine had the similar misfortune of flying home for winter break alongside Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph, issued a petition to end classes earlier. “Never again” was the insinuated drumbeat of their melodrama. “Never again will you deprive that fraction of the student body actually affected by this schedule of their full serving of Christmas ham.” Facebook groups swelled, student government felt relevant, and idle student activists found a new cause. The whining horde was assembled.
Recently, the University Senate rejected a Columbia College Student Council and Engineering Student Council joint proposal that would have started classes before Labor Day and ended exams well before Dec. 23. This is because, according to a spokesman, faculty expressed concern about finding day care for their children since New York City public schools do not begin until after Labor Day. In truth, I imagine that faculty members, who often flee before finals are over anyway, probably don’t want to sacrifice their own deserved family vacations and legitimate research travels, which they can really only take during summers.
But this is a university, and such deference to faculty is its nature. Believe it or not, this isn’t some corporate teaching institution that advertises itself in admissions packets to parents as a fun, user-friendly destination to send their children. No, despite the fact that the quality of our undergraduate education is most likely unparalleled, Columbia doesn’t exist for its undergraduate population. Rather, Columbia exists for its faculty to produce research, and we, the undergraduates, are privileged as invitees to glean what we can in the short time we have here to grow as thinkers, leaders, and “doers”—and whining, I might add, is not the same as “doing.”
So, to the whining horde, I say you this: sit down, for you have no revolution, and accept the existing calendar and the fact that some small number of you might have to fly home on the 23rd or 24th. Your frantic gesticulations are childish, immoderate, and unproductive. If anything, your inflexibility will damn all of us by voiding our fall break, or else cut short our study days—the ramifications of which are likely to be more haunting to many grade point averages than a slightly extended trip to the Christmas trough can justify.
And please, no hunger striking this time—the irony could be overwhelming.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in political theory and international politics. He is the editor-in-chief of the campus political journal Publius.