After two semesters that put the tradition in jeopardy, the Columbia University Marching Band and the Administration have reached an agreement to have two Orgo Night celebrations this year, one in Butler Library and the other on the steps of Low Library, said sources close to the situation last night.
In numerous interviews over the past two weeks, administrators and Band members repeatedly refused to comment on the possibility of a Butler show, referring instead to the Low steps show if they would discuss the topic at all.
Plans for Thursday night's event are not yet certain, in part because Administrators may still change their mind if they fear the semi-annual celebration could get out of control. But current plans are for the traditional midnight show in the main reading room of Butler library, as well as a larger show on Low steps afterwards.
The Band will not poster for the Butler show or otherwise advertise it, and a limit of 200 people will be allowed to gather in the reading room. The second show will be open to all students.
The effort to limit the number of students at the event is a stark change from past years, when Orgo Night has been one of Columbia's best-loved and best-attended events.
While the show in Butler is currently limited to 200 students and monitored by student marshals, if too many students crowd into the main reading room, sources close to the situation say that the show may be canceled up until the last minute.
Undergraduate librarian Ree Dedonato explained the Administration's concerns. "Orgo Night seems to have gotten bigger," Dedonato said. "I think its terrific if students enjoy this and want to use the event to come together. My concern is: is this the best way to do that?"
While last semester's Van Am Quad performance indicated a transition toward moving Orgo Night out of Butler, this is the first semester in which the band will not poster for the Butler show at all.
"This is truly an event for a broad student audience, [and] the population of that audience seems to have grown beyond what can be accommodated in Butler," Dedonato said. "Based on several semesters leading up to these discussions, it seems that in order for Orgo Night to continue as a terrific tradition for students to enjoy, maybe there needs to be some thought about how to maintain this tradition so that most students really can participate and enjoy it as a big group."
Voicing firm opposition to this decision, many students believe that moving Orgo Night's location fundamentally sacrifices one of Columbia's few sacred traditions.
"Columbia prides itself on our traditional core curriculum, yet a tradition just as entrenched and even more enjoyable is being tossed aside," said Jonathan Stern, CC '03.
"I think it's a shame that they would even consider moving a tradition," Jordan Hirsh, CC '01 said. "The definition of tradition is that it doesn't move."
Since the 1960s, the band has marched into the main reading room of Butler Library each semester on the night before the Organic Chemistry final, playing its music and declaring that its goal is to lower the curve by disrupting the hard-working students. The event that follows--a roast of students, professors, and especially Administrators punctuated by songs played by the self-proclaimed "cleverest band in the world"--has become a hugely popular study-break for work-weary students.
The event has become so popular that over the past couple of years, Orgo Night attendance has increased significantly, culminating with the show last spring, when over 1,000 people packed into Butler's main reading room, causing damage and filling the room to what library officials said was a dangerous level. At one point, students shut out of the event by security guards tried to push through the doors as students on the inside chanted "let them in."
"The damage in the spring was significant," said Curtis Kendrick, director of access services for Butler Library, commenting in the fall. "[But] even more important than the potential damage is the possibility of there being a serious accident and people getting hurt."
As a result of last spring's show, members from the Band, the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC), Engineering Student Council (ESC), and administrators from the library and security held meetings in the fall in order to find a way to have fun while staying safe.
The band worked out an arrangement with the Administration to hold the show in Butler, patrolled by student marshals, who would, along with security, significantly limit the number of people allowed in the room. They also arranged to have an additional show in the Van Am Quad.
The Butler show, however, was disrupted midway through by a fire alarm pulled by an unknown person in the building's second-floor lobby. The show then moved to the Van Am Quad, where band members restarted from the beginning. But administrators remained concerned that the show was too large to be safe, leading to the harsher limits on this semester's celebration.
Like last semester, student marshals will be present in Butler to monitor the show's attendance. According to an e-mail obtained by the Spectator sent to the student marshals by ESC President Apeksha Kumar, SEAS '01, the role of the marshals is to "direct students in and out of the library from certain locations, making sure that there aren't any huge crowds gathering, and [the marshals] will help to inform students of how the night is going to run."
Also according to the e-mail, the Orgo Night tradition is in jeopardy, and the student marshals' presence that night may help to preserve the event. Being a student marshal, the message said, is "a really important role in that you guys are helping to make sure that we don't lose a vital tradition at Columbia."
The e-mail adds that for those who miss the performance in Butler, "there will be a second show happening on the steps."
Band Head Manager Angela Richardson, CC '02, promised that the Low show, complete with free refreshments, "won't disappoint."
"We're really excited about our first ever outdoor spring Orgo Night," Richardson said, adding that the Band "will make fun of everyone as much as before."