AskBwog: What a Lovely Vacation… I mean, Election
Written by Bwog Staff
To Columbians, Election Day means more than the clatter of local politics in Wien. The coming of democracy signals the end of debauchery; Halloween and our four-or-five-day break is over. But why do we break now instead of earlier in the semester like our Columbus-Day-hating brethren? Bwog’s own David Hu looked the gift horse so deep in the mouth that he ended up in the 1960’s.
You might have heard that the ‘60s saw a few “protests” at Columbia – that’s what they call it when students use large signs, free love, and building takeovers to criticize stuff, including the United States electoral system. Issues of the Spectator from November 1968 included topics such as “Is the U.S. electoral process worth saving?” and the “rottenness of the electoral process,” rather than today’s op-ed topics such as “hope” and “change.” Plus, only 146 students participated in the elections for student representatives in 1968; Columbia’s apathy towards the electoral system was clearly becoming a problem.
In an attempt to remedy the student body’s attitude, the University Senate proposed a 10-day holiday from October 24 to November 2 “in order to allow students and faculty members to participate in the 1970 general election campaign.” The provision passed the University Senate the first time, but failed to convince the trustees.
Upon a second attempt, the administration compromised with students on a four-day recess, either to avoid further protests or to make sure that they could sit at the big kids table with Princeton, Brown and Cornell, who already gave long Election Day breaks. And so Columbia students were given Friday, October 30 to Monday, November 2, 1970 off from classes and encouraged to participate in the electoral process.
Whether any students would actually do so was questioned from the start. History Professor William Leuchtenberg warned that “No one has said with any degree of assuredness that even fifty per cent of the students will work during a recess” (Spec, Oct. 5, 1970). And perhaps he was rightfully worried, as an October Spectator poll revealed that indeed only 15% of students planned on actually campaigning during the break. But even though today you ‘vote or die’ according to certain celebrity rappers, Columbia is still graced with that vestigial Election Day break, and after four decades, students have come to value what those four days are truly all about: