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Columbia Spectator Staff

In last Friday's New York Times profile of must-sees around Columbia, only one locale was actually on campus: Postcrypt Coffeehouse. To the 'crypt's fans, it was hardly a surprise. What the New York Times failed to mention, or perhaps did not know, is that Postcrypt is the latest victim of bureaucratic strangulation and will likely shut down without a serious fight to keep the doors open. Why would the school want to close "one of Columbia's open secrets" and "an effortlessly cool place on campus," according to the Times? Because administrators apparently troll Bwog comments and found an anonymous suggestion that Postcrypt sells beer to minors. As a result, they've demanded that Postcrypt pony up almost $300 more per night of operation to cover the cost of a second alcohol proctor and a security guard for St. Paul's Chapel, where Postcrypt is located. This additional sum is a pittance to the University, but it would put Postcrypt out of business. The merits of the administration's case are highly suspect, but worse, they are insultingly dishonest. First, let's remember that Bwog's comment section is little more than our communal bathroom wall—the place where untrue, exaggerated, and ad hominem criticism is standard. Second, if we pretend for a moment that the criticism was remotely based on fact, isn't it the job of the alcohol proctor Postcrypt already pays to ensure that policies are enforced? As for the demand that Postcrypt pay for a security guard, well, that reeks of ulterior motives. In her article last week, Postcrypt head manager Ginia Sweeney pointed out that in the 40-plus years of Postcrypt's operation in St. Paul's, there have been no incidents that suggest that security is threatened. Furthermore, other clubs are not held responsible for general safety in the buildings in which they operate. What's next, clubs chipping in for security in Lerner Hall? Club budgets are strapped as it is, and to veil greater strain on creative endeavors with vague cries for increased security is a pathetic echo of Bush-era governance. The administration's arguments don't hold up to even mild scrutiny. Instead of working with Postcrypt to have their fears assuaged, administrators are pushing for cost increases that will wipe the matter, and Postcrypt, off their radar. Throughout the process, Postcrypt's managing board has been incredibly cooperative. They have offered alternative solutions that would both meet the arbitrary new demands and keep Postrcypt afloat, including having a student volunteer serve as a second alcohol proctor and ending the sale of alcohol altogether. The response to this second suggestion was that a security guard was still necessary because administrators seem to perceive a culture of drinking in the 'crypt. As frequenters of Postcrypt, we can say unequivocally that it is a refuge from the alcohol-driven nightlife that defines the modern college experience. Known for its free popcorn, tiny bar, and cozy atmosphere, Postcrypt is one of the most laid-back evening spaces on campus in which the focus is the communal appreciation of folk music. We actually went to Postcrypt most often during freshman year for the precise reason that we could enjoy music in a public campus community where alcohol consumption was not necessary. Postcrypt is known throughout the New York folk music scene, and its audience is loyal and appreciative of this welcoming space, hidden away from the strips of generic restaurants and bars that line Broadway and Amsterdam.  As indicated by the New York Times shout-out, Postcrypt's reputation benefits the University by providing a vibrant and unusual venue that shows the school to be more than a funnel for future financiers or a hopelessly uncool Upper West Side prepland. To incoming students, New York can seem like an intimidating place, and a campus refuge like Postcrypt is a wonderful selling point. Postcrypt also provides a rare link between Columbia and the outside world that does not involve a contract. The typical Postcrypt crowd is part student, part local, and the music serves to create a unique community that is unregulated by the usual "programs" used to compel student interaction with the off-campus world. The coffeehouse is one place where non-students can feel at home at the University and where students can offer up a little space for mutual benefit. It has been incredibly, dare we say uniquely, successful in this regard. It would be tragic to see administrative witch hunting steal this gem away from Columbia nightlife. Students must make their heartfelt defense of Postcrypt heard by communicating their sentiments to the Office of the University Chaplain, the Department of Public Safety, University Events Management, and the Student Governing Board's advisers. For the record, we wrote this column without consulting our friends who help run the 'crypt. Any vitriol is entirely our own. Sarah Leonard is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. Kate Redburn is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and African studies. Shock and Awe runs alternate Mondays.

Postcrypt administration