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Columbia Spectator Staff

Maybe it is just because we've been starved for a little drama and crisis on this campus recently, or maybe this really matters more than it appears to me, but a group of students have been raising quite the hullabaloo since the Nov. 1 revelation that the Arts Initiative at Columbia was being handed over to the control of Columbia's Graduate School of the Arts. Honestly, this feels like a nonissue to me. I can only conclude that one misstep on the part of the administration has allowed for all of this Sturm und Drang, and it represents a common root of much of the petty malaise on campus. The administrators thought it was not a big deal, and they did not want to bother us. Spectator had to request information on this change outright—it was not publicized, because, paraphrasing President Bollinger and SoA Dean Carol Becker, it wrought little to no perceptible change in the way the institution runs. This has led to accusations of a "clandestine and un-inclusive" nature to the move, to use the phrasing of the student group Advocates of the Arts Initiative, when in truth the case seems to be more about mercy for our boredom. Grumbling has ensued about the perceived flippancy of this response, but what really struck me was the following statement by Becker: "Administrative restructurings happen all the time in institutions. Students are probably not even aware that positions that used to report to the provost are no longer reporting to the provost." When I read this, my mind snapped back to an incident on March 2, 2009 involving our recent Rhodes scholar, Raphael Graybill (congratulations, Raphael!). That night, according to a Bwog report, Graybill and the ski team attempted to build a snow ramp on the Low Library steps, as had been done several years before. Public Safety immediately arrived to break up the team's efforts, but Graybill stood his ground, reasoning politely with the officer based on precedent, the team's injury waivers, and the fact that he had cleared this action with the Facilities and Public Safety departments that day. The officer still refused. When Graybill asked to whom he could speak, he was told that only the OK from Bollinger would make it all right. A little bit of spontaneity died that night because chains of command, order, and appeals broke down. Variants of this case pop up often. Students attempt to safeguard spontaneous events, but are ultimately blocked due to any number of constraints (space, funding, permission), but mainly because they do not know whose name they must throw around to make Public Safety go away and let them build a snow ramp. And the process of finding out is a pain—I say this from experience—as responses to inquiries usually return long after the moment of inspiration and action has passed. It is, then, a lack of clarity on chains of command and the inability of students to effectively appeal their cases that so often give the kiss of death to amusing eureka moments. Say, for instance, I am a fan of the concept of a spontaneous musical, replete with plants and props scattered all over College Walk (which I am). This would not disturb any planned events, although it would exist around them, and would be quite noticeable, to say the least. As it stands, I run the same risk as Graybill of being stopped by some official for creating an obstruction, or hindering an event, or some other such infraction. Granted, my example is silly, and Graybill's case, with its threat of injury, inspires a little more leering by officials. But in either case, with no outlined procedure, no clear line of appeals, and no simple way of discerning if such a line exists—at least not as quickly as I would need to—spontaneous events cannot occur on this campus in large-scale or creative cases. And it is because such administrative changes occur so often, and are made without any announcement to the general student body because the changes will not affect daily functions, that this happens. So long as we are unaware of even the minor transitions, students are unable to act quickly and on a small, non-group scale. This is a blow to community and a blow to fond memories associated with the University, and as such, a possible blow to unconditional alumni donations. Perhaps every single change would over-saturate the news, but knowing these changes is vital at one point or another to everyone. Couldn't the administration at least give us a clearly available chart on student activities pages, in student spaces, or something of the sort? I want assurances that my musical will go off without a hitch. Mark Hay is a Columbia College sophomore. Unusual, Unseemly, or Unnoticed runs alternate Fridays. opinion@columbiaspectator.com

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