With a swift Google search, Columbia’s “guide to academic integrity,” its “university regulations,” and its respective punishments for violations are made available to all members of the community. The accessibility of Columbia’s conduct guide should make it easy for students to follow established rules and even offers some leeway in instances of violation. But of course, students still disobey. However, this rebellion reveals more about the discordant relationship between the University and its students than it does about the insubordinate nature of the students themselves.

In most cases, students break the rules as a means of communicating with the University at large rather than out of spite for authority. Students who do not feel protected by the rules—or in some cases, feel threatened by them—have no incentive to abide by the system. Instances of disobedience are usually in response to the implementation of unfair rules or apparent disregard of student complaints. Once these concerns are voiced, and upon no amendment by the administration, students decide to go against regulation in order to achieve for themselves what the University will not.

In the case of the protesters at the Columbia University College Republicans hosted event, many students believed that Tommy Robinson’s divisive ideologies and incendiary speech posed a threat to several communities. After the University declined to cancel the event, the protesters chose to disrupt the event as an act of revolt against the university for its disregard. Despite popular assumption, the administration did not seek to punish the protesters for their views nor to protect the speaker, but rather sought to address the disruption caused by the protest. Despite the administration’s communication of intention, the protesters and many other students believed that the punishment they were set to receive was unjust.

This past semester, the Columbia University Marching Band violated a mandate set by the Columbia administration which barred the band from Butler 209. The administration acquiesced to complaints from students suggesting that the Orgo Night performance disrupted studying during finals week and, eventually, called for the tradition’s relocation. Unlike the protesters’ unfulfilled demands, the Columbia University Marching Band’s protestations against the ban were met with the compromise of relocation instead of complete cessation, which they still chose to ignore in favor of tradition over courtesy. The band violated the new rule, snuck into Butler, and played their set—a giant middle finger to the administration and unsupportive students—to protect, what they believe to be, an essential element of Columbia’s culture.

It is easy for Columbia students to direct all curses, complaints, and criticisms at “the administration” as a vague concept. Yet by assuming this monolithic view, students fail to recognize the complexities of the administration and simultaneously overestimate its efficacy. The requests and complaints of students must traverse the great labyrinth of university bureaucracy before—if ever—being reviewed by those powerful enough to effectively initiate change. The few requests that reach the desks of these administrators are then sieved back through this bureaucratic system, before appearing in our LionMail inboxes as watered-down and disappointing initiatives. These seemingly half-hearted attempts at addressing the needs of students create more dissention and in turn launch the university into a self-perpetuating war of miscommunication and misdirection—a war which it seems ill-equipped to win.

If the channels of communication flowed as they should, students would have no reason to rebel and could instead directly address the administration in good faith. As Columbia University’s established rules are meant to ensure students who attend the university do so “without fear for their personal security or other serious intrusions on their ability to teach and to study,” the administration must heed the best interests of the students. But the merit of an institution whose primary interaction with its students occurs when disciplining them ought to be questioned. Additionally, one must also question that of students who continue to use disobedience as their sole form of communication. And while neither the administration nor the students are solely responsible for this tumultuous state of affairs, both should proactively strive to create a collaborative and communicative system that serves to benefit the needs of Columbia’s entire community.

With a swift Google search, Columbia’s “guide to academic integrity,” its “university regulations,” and its respective punishments for violations are made available to all members of the community. The accessibility of Columbia’s conduct guide should make it easy for students to follow established rules and even offers some leeway in instances of violation. But of course, students still disobey. However, this rebellion reveals more about the discordant relationship between the University and its students than it does about the insubordinate nature of the students themselves.

In most cases, students break the rules as a means of communicating with the University at large rather than out of spite for authority. Students who do not feel protected by the rules—or in some cases, feel threatened by them—have no incentive to abide by the system. Instances of disobedience are usually in response to the implementation of unfair rules or apparent disregard of student complaints. Once these concerns are voiced, and upon no amendment by the administration, students decide to go against regulation in order to achieve for themselves what the University will not.

In the case of the protesters at the Columbia University College Republicans hosted event, many students believed that Tommy Robinson’s divisive ideologies and incendiary speech posed a threat to several communities. After the University declined to cancel the event, the protesters chose to disrupt the event as an act of revolt against the university for its disregard. Despite popular assumption, the administration did not seek to punish the protesters for their views nor to protect the speaker, but rather sought to address the disruption caused by the protest. Despite the administration’s communication of intention, the protesters and many other students believed that the punishment they were set to receive was unjust.

Avah Toomer is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in medicine, literature, and society and concentrating in francophone studies. She enjoys long walks in Central Park, classical music, transcendental & postmodern literature, and the ironic use of clichés. Feel free to send all compliments, complaints, and general queries to her on Facebook or message her if you just want to make a new friend.

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By AVAH TOOMER
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Discourse & Debate: Is rule-breaking ever justified?

The Columbia University Marching Band recently defied direct administrative rules banning them from Butler, and the administration has yet to follow up on the infraction. Earlier in the semester, the administration dropped an investigation into protestors at a Columbia University College Republicans event. Many students believe both instances of rule breaking were justified. Are students ever justified in breaking the rules?

Both the Orgo Night incident and the protests at the Columbia Republicans’ event represent students’ willingness to violate the rules in order to stand up for a cause they believe in. I believe that, depending on where one’s sympathies lie, these acts are justified; they were meant to send a message to the administration regarding a perceived injustice. Acts of selective disobedience are beneficial for our campus discourse and community. However, I still hold that, given the administration’s current policies, the University has the full right to take disciplinary action, and knowingly breaking the rules to create change must be accompanied by the knowledge that being disciplined is a real possibility.

Depending on one’s political outlook, CUMB’s decision to defy the rules and play in the library is either a celebration of free expression, or a showcase of insensitive and offensive content that should not be sanctioned by the administration. Similarly, the protestors at the Columbia Republicans’ event can be seen as crusaders for social justice and the protection of historically marginalized groups, or as setting a dangerous precedent that will degrade the administration’s strong free speech policy.

Regardless of my personal beliefs on these two issues, I see these acts of selective rule-breaking as largely good things. The groundswell of conversation and debate that these acts have engendered is evidence of their provocative power. It is important that the administration is aware that this ideological debate exists within our community. Non-violent protest ensures that it does.

But even if these acts were motivated by just causes or are a net good for our campus discourse, I believe that in both cases, the administration had the full right to investigate and punish those who were directly involved. If the University never enforced its rules, that would be an interesting study in small-scale anarchy. We have chosen to be students of this University, and with that decision comes the agreement to abide by its rules, or be willing to face punishment. The administration has a duty to uphold its policies without partiality. However, the ultimate outcome of these investigations is up to the University’s discretion. Obviously, the penal system at our university leaves the specific punishments for various violations up to the administration’s discretion more than the U.S. legal system does. Does it show hypocrisy that several protesters were investigated for their actions, whereas neither Campus Safety nor the administration has followed up on the CUMB infraction as of yet?

I would argue that, given the longstanding acceptance and tradition behind Orgo Night, in comparison with the heated political climate on college campuses regarding free speech issues, it is understandable why the latter case was taken more seriously. President Bollinger has defended a staunch, comprehensive free speech policy, and it should not come as a surprise that the administration views active disruptions of a Columbia-sponsored event as more grievous infractions than CUMB trying to preserve the venue of its off-color comedy. The University has the right to raise charges against these protesters, just as it has a right to prevent them from carrying out a similarly disruptive protest in the future.

Despite this opinion, I still strongly believe that we must scrutinize and contrast the various decisions regarding different infractions in order to hold the administration accountable. While the University has the right to punish (or not punish) students for violating its rules, we must weigh the severity of the infractions and determine if ideological bias is impacting its actions. While I believe that anyone who knowingly breaks the University’s guidelines must foresee accruing some punishment, it takes bravery to stand up for what one believes, and historically, breaking the rules has created watershed moments for change.

Both the Orgo Night incident and the protests at the Columbia Republicans’ event represent students’ willingness to violate the rules in order to stand up for a cause they believe in. I believe that, depending on where one’s sympathies lie, these acts are justified; they were meant to send a message to the administration regarding a perceived injustice. Acts of selective disobedience are beneficial for our campus discourse and community. However, I still hold that, given the administration’s current policies, the University has the full right to take disciplinary action, and knowingly breaking the rules to create change must be accompanied by the knowledge that being disciplined is a real possibility.

Depending on one’s political outlook, CUMB’s decision to defy the rules and play in the library is either a celebration of free expression, or a showcase of insensitive and offensive content that should not be sanctioned by the administration. Similarly, the protestors at the Columbia Republicans’ event can be seen as crusaders for social justice and the protection of historically marginalized groups, or as setting a dangerous precedent that will degrade the administration’s strong free speech policy.

Regardless of my personal beliefs on these two issues, I see these acts of selective rule-breaking as largely good things. The groundswell of conversation and debate that these acts have engendered is evidence of their provocative power. It is important that the administration is aware that this ideological debate exists within our community. Non-violent protest ensures that it does.

Ethan is a sophomore majoring in philosophy and economics who is desperately trying to avoid the dreaded “slump.” His interests include professional basketball, reading moral philosophy, and presenting compelling arguments for the use of the Oxford comma. Email him at ehh2133@columbia.edu for some lively conversation.

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By ETHAN HASTINGS
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Breaking the rules is necessary to overturn corrupt systems. Just because a system is legal does not make it just. Do you know what was once legal? Slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid. So, in order to end the cycle of oppression, it is required that you do not play by the rules of the oppressor. Audre Lorde once masterfully said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In this case, the master is the administration of Columbia University, and the tools are the rules they put in place to control and oppress minorities, such as West Harlem residents.

In an ideal world, the administration enacts rules in order to protect students and the surrounding community. However, the rules put into place too often further marginalize the same students who view the school as a safe haven from an abusive political climate. As Martin Luther King Jr. advises, when a rule "degrades human personality” or reinforces the degradation of personality—as the CUCR events did—then it must be broken. Columbia’s refusal to ban bigots from campus places the existences of minorities on campus at risk. By providing a platform for white supremacists, they facilitate the proliferation of their ideologies, regardless of the University’s intentions. These ideologies attempt to marginalize and eliminate people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other minority groups.

These same ideologies of white supremacy inherently benefit Columbia administrators since most of them are and have been rich, white, old men and women. As much as we’d love to naively believe that the administration’s main goal is to protect marginalized students and work towards eliminating oppressive systems, this inaction has shown otherwise. Columbia’s main goal is to protect its monetary investments by pleasing privileged individuals. This often comes at the expense of minorities. In cases when the administration chooses its image or pockets over the well being of its students, it becomes the students’ right and obligation to challenge its complicity. However, in the case of the Columbia University Marching Band, the administration was justified in banning the event because the marching band degraded the humanity of black people by utilizing their bodies and plights as props and punchlines—though this was not the administration’s justification. For years, the predominantly white marching band utilized jokes regarding the sexualization of black women and the protesting of police brutality to make light of the suffering of black people. The fact that they did not receive punishment for storming Butler when minority protestors at the CUCR event were threatened and interrogated further proves that Columbia will not punish students unless these students threaten systems of power which the University benefits from. The band, to date, have not been reprimanded for storming Butler in order to tell their jokes—many of which make light of the marginalization of black people—led by a “bored” of mainly white and white passing students. However, when students protested the spread of hate speech intended to marginalize people of color, they were banned from campus events and interrogated.

Columbia’s history as an oppressive force makes it obvious that if you are not a rich, white/white passing, Christian man, the rules were not constructed with you in mind. Throughout the years, minority students have attempted to reform unjust policies and systems within Columbia, but their pleas were often met with inaction.The only way to break this cycle of oppression is to resist every attempt Columbia makes to dehumanize us.

Breaking the rules is necessary to overturn corrupt systems. Just because a system is legal does not make it just. Do you know what was once legal? Slavery, Jim Crow, apartheid. So, in order to end the cycle of oppression, it is required that you do not play by the rules of the oppressor. Audre Lorde once masterfully said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In this case, the master is the administration of Columbia University, and the tools are the rules they put in place to control and oppress minorities, such as West Harlem residents.

In an ideal world, the administration enacts rules in order to protect students and the surrounding community. However, the rules put into place too often further marginalize the same students who view the school as a safe haven from an abusive political climate. As Martin Luther King Jr. advises, when a rule "degrades human personality” or reinforces the degradation of personality—as the CUCR events did—then it must be broken. Columbia’s refusal to ban bigots from campus places the existences of minorities on campus at risk. By providing a platform for white supremacists, they facilitate the proliferation of their ideologies, regardless of the University’s intentions. These ideologies attempt to marginalize and eliminate people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other minority groups.

Heven Haile is a first-year in Columbia College studying political science and African-American history. She is a first-year representative for the Black Students’ Organization and a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association. Her hobbies include blissfully listening to Frank Ocean and Solange in a dark room, destroying oppressive systems, and stanning black women on Twitter.

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By HEVEN HAILE

Ideally, university students and their administration will have a mutually beneficial relationship: Each party will oppose the foolishness and bigotry that inevitably crop up in the other, and this will conduce to a campus environment more favorable for all. In 1968, Columbia students exemplified this ideal by taking a moral stand against the administration. Demonstrating against the school’s plan to build an effectively segregated gymnasium in Morningside Park (“Gym Crow,” as protesters called it), student activists would eventually persuade the administration to relocate the gymnasium to a space on campus. Not all acts of insubordination are equally admirable, however, and the administration likewise does not always act in the interest of the greater good. Considering recent examples of this adverse dynamic can nevertheless be instructive, in that doing so can help illustrate to students our role in creating a more ideal campus through open discourse.

To begin with Orgo Night, I observe that the University was justified in attempting to bar the CUMB from Butler. The tradition is disruptive to those who are studying in the library, and its putative merits are only these: that it imparts some pleasure to the CUMB and that it is a longstanding (some may say inveterate) tradition. The latter can be disregarded because we should maintain or discontinue traditions only according to whether they produce good overall: An injurious habit is simply a vice. And the former simply shows that Orgo night is an exercise in inconsiderate behavior, for it amounts to the marching band members pursuing their fun at a cost that others have to pay.The protests against Tommy Robinson were similarly misguided, and the administration was justified in its attempts to discipline students who interrupted his speech. If those students had been less besotted by sentiment, they would have seen that Robinson is a proponent of flawed ideas that should be met with reasoned counterarguments rather than ingeminated slogans.

The case of another controversial speaker, Mike Cernovich, proved the superiority of discourse over disruption: Several unsympathetic students posed thoughtful questions to Cernovich, and his responses evinced an inability or unwillingness to engage with them. In the end, Cernovich’s position was made to look weaker than those of its opponents—a sure victory for those who discountenanced the speech.

Yet some of Robinson’s most ardent protesters found little use in discourse. Instead they opted for tumult and coercion, disrupting Robinson’s speech because they found the speaker objectionable. Just as in the relatively trivial CUMB case, the administration was correct in opposing the misconduct of students, which was harmful to the student body both for its anti-intellectualism (protesters not only refused to engage the speaker’s ideas, but also misrepresented them) and for its contravention of our indispensable free speech rules.

It bears noting that the administration has not actually implemented disciplinary action in either instance so far. In neglecting to do so, the University sent the message that its rules may be flouted without consequence and that its well-reasoned principles are perhaps only ostensible. In turn, students are encouraged to violate good rules whenever they get a bad idea in their heads. To compensate for an administration unable to restrain the excesses of its student body, we must engage our peers in civil debate. We must determine what principles it makes sense to support, as well as what the best means of furthering those principles are. A truly productive public discourse could prove that the best deterrent for harmful behavior is not punishment; rather, it is a dialectic that invests in its participants an understanding of why they should act a certain way. I have little hope for the actualization of such a remedy, of course, but the thought is nice.

Ideally, university students and their administration will have a mutually beneficial relationship: Each party will oppose the foolishness and bigotry that inevitably crop up in the other, and this will conduce to a campus environment more favorable for all. In 1968, Columbia students exemplified this ideal by taking a moral stand against the administration. Demonstrating against the school’s plan to build an effectively segregated gymnasium in Morningside Park (“Gym Crow,” as protesters called it), student activists would eventually persuade the administration to relocate the gymnasium to a space on campus. Not all acts of insubordination are equally admirable, however, and the administration likewise does not always act in the interest of the greater good. Considering recent examples of this adverse dynamic can nevertheless be instructive, in that doing so can help illustrate to students our role in creating a more ideal campus through open discourse.

To begin with Orgo Night, I observe that the University was justified in attempting to bar the CUMB from Butler. The tradition is disruptive to those who are studying in the library, and its putative merits are only these: that it imparts some pleasure to the CUMB and that it is a longstanding (some may say inveterate) tradition. The latter can be disregarded because we should maintain or discontinue traditions only according to whether they produce good overall: An injurious habit is simply a vice. And the former simply shows that Orgo night is an exercise in inconsiderate behavior, for it amounts to the marching band members pursuing their fun at a cost that others have to pay.The protests against Tommy Robinson were similarly misguided, and the administration was justified in its attempts to discipline students who interrupted his speech. If those students had been less besotted by sentiment, they would have seen that Robinson is a proponent of flawed ideas that should be met with reasoned counterarguments rather than ingeminated slogans.

Shane Brasil-Wadsworth is a junior in Columbia College studying philosophy and history. Email him at sb4056@columbia.edu to discuss his writing.

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By SHANE BRASIL-WADSWORTH

CUMB’s comedy routine is known for politically incorrect takes on current events and thrives on an aura of the illicit. Nothing makes a joke more interesting than being told it’s illegal to hear the punchline.

Perhaps Columbia administrators were hesitant to reprimand Orgo Night participants because their original ban contradicts the words of President Bollinger, a staunch supporter of free speech. But a more compelling reason is probably that Columbia administrators realized they were only offering CUMB free publicity by prohibiting them from the library. So, instead of dragging the non-issue around for a few weeks, administrators decided to let it go. How terrible for those CUMB martyrs, who would have died on the altar of free speech to bring truth to power—via orgy jokes.

The question here should not be whether or not CUMB was “justified” in breaking the Rules of University Conduct to promote their equal-opportunity offensiveness. For there are times when every Columbia student considers breaking the rules and believes they are justified in doing so. Who hasn’t considered glancing over at a classmate’s test answers, personally rationalizing it with an “if I didn’t have to take X units, then I’d actually have time to study.” And every suitemate thinks he’s justified in blasting music at 3 a.m. on a weeknight, though it definitely “causes a noise that substantially hinders others in their normal academic activities.”

There is a difference between justifying something that is illegal, and believing that it should be legal. When we choose to break a rule, it is not necessarily because we believe the rule is unjust, but rather because we believe our circumstances warrant an exception to the rule. However, when Columbia students join the University community, they enter into an agreement to follow all of the University’s rules. That means, even if they feel personally justified in breaking a rule, they have signed a legal agreement consenting to a commensurate penalty regardless. There are many situations in which students may be justified in breaking the rules. But, from a strictly legal standpoint, there is no situation in which they can justify avoiding the consequences.

In a perfect world, a judicial body would contextualize the infractions of every defendant, or in plainer terms, “walk a mile in their shoes.” This actually does happen in most cases; those who commit offenses under extenuating circumstances are often granted reduced sentences. But, they are not absolved of their crimes altogether, nor should they be. For rules to be effective, no one can be above them. That includes Columbia students, and Columbia administrators should not pick and choose when or where to enforce the rules. They should do their best to be a neutral arbitrator. The University has an obligation to teach us how to be informed and productive citizens—and part of this citizenship includes respect for the rule of law. If individuals disagree with the rules, they should go through the proper channels to amend or abolish them. Petitions are a good start, but if long-term change is sought, these groups should focus on electing sympathetic members to groups that actually have the power to revise the rules. Such progress will be slow. But rashly revised rules are rarely wise ones.

That’s why the current selective enforcement of University’s rules is a huge mistake. It undermines the existence of a set of standards in the first place. It can even validate criticism that the administration is biased and politically motivated. For example, as someone who personally believes that the left-wing protest of CUCR’s event with Mike Cernovich was justified, I was disappointed that protesters who disrupted the event did not face consequences. For the University to maintain a semblance of neutrality, it must enforce the rules objectively, instead of acting out of personal political beliefs or a fear of criticism. Constructive, and even destructive, criticism is a healthy way to rectify unjust rules. Selective enforcement is not.

The administration’s decisions to avoid a public battle with CUMB and the left-wing protesters might have made sense at the time, but they were extremely short-sighted. In the context of the University’s established position on free speech and our fraught political climate, the decisions were justified. But should they be allowed? Absolutely not.

CUMB’s comedy routine is known for politically incorrect takes on current events and thrives on an aura of the illicit. Nothing makes a joke more interesting than being told it’s illegal to hear the punchline.

Perhaps Columbia administrators were hesitant to reprimand Orgo Night participants because their original ban contradicts the words of President Bollinger, a staunch supporter of free speech. But a more compelling reason is probably that Columbia administrators realized they were only offering CUMB free publicity by prohibiting them from the library. So, instead of dragging the non-issue around for a few weeks, administrators decided to let it go. How terrible for those CUMB martyrs, who would have died on the altar of free speech to bring truth to power—via orgy jokes.

Mimi is a junior in Columbia College studying creative writing. She likes to write opinion pieces, satire, and thinly veiled autobiography. Love letters can be sent to mae2160@columbia.edu.

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By MIMI EVANS

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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