Although the stress from finals seems far from our minds, Orgo Night drama has been relevant as ever. Over winter break, we received a tip that included the text of a resignation email the Head of the New Jersey Alumni Representative Committee (ARC), Kevin Chapman, sent to the rest of the organization. He cited the university’s attempt to terminate Orgo Night as his reason for leaving, calling their decision “wrong-headed” and “one that seems to be an attempt to censor the content of the Band’s performance in direct contravention of the principles of free speech for which Columbia purports to stand.” Chapman ties his frustration back to his role as a member of the ARC, saying that Columbia’s action and methods prevent him from “in good conscience, recommending Columbia to high school seniors as an environment of free expression, intellectual honesty, and open discussion of ideas.” He concludes the email with a call for other members to join him in hopes to invoke change.
Seeing alumni step up in defense of Orgo Night and a fair discussion between The University and The Band is pretty cool. Hopefully, more members of the alumni community will voice their support of the tradition (or at least more transparency) as well.
Edit, as of 10:15 pm: Kevin Chapman is the parent of one of our staff members. This member had no part in writing the post.
Here’s his email:
Attached to this email is my letter of resignation from the Alumni Representative Committee, addressed to ARC Director Whitney Green. I realize that this will come as a shock to many of you and I sincerely apologize for any disruption to the ARC mission that my sudden departure causes. Harlan Greenman, already the Co-Chair, has agreed to step up and handle the Chairperson duties in my absence. If any others within the committee wish to volunteer to also step up and assume a larger leadership role, please contact Harlan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Harlan’s email is also copied here in the cc line for your convenience.
The reason for my decision, as stated in my letter to Whitney, is the university administration’s ill-conceived decision to terminate the traditional Orgo Night performance by the marching band in Butler Library. No only was the decision wrong-headed, but it was implemented without any notice or discussion – a fait accompli by university administrators to end one of the few remaining Columbia student traditions, and one that seems to be an attempt to censor the content of the Band’s performance in direct contravention of the principles of free speech for which Columbia purports to stand. The reasons stated by the university for this decision don’t hold up to even slight scrutiny, and when the Band leadership attempted to meet with administrators to discuss options for compromise, the university rejected all suggestions.
I realize that many alumni will feel that this is a small issue affecting only the marching band. I disagree. This is the worst kind of heavy-handed administrative diktat, which stifles student expression sends the clear message that administrators will take whatever action they want without seeking input from students and without concern for the intangible things that make Columbia a unique and wonderful place. The university’s action, and its methods and obfuscation of the real motives makes Columbia a place that I cannot, in good conscience, recommend to high school seniors as an environment of free expression, intellectual honesty, and open discussion of ideas. I cannot continue to be an “ambassador” of Columbia during upcoming interviews.
I intend to work with other concerned alumni to convince the university to reverse this decision. If reason prevails and the students are permitted to resume their traditional Orgo Night program in the library this spring, I will gladly return to the ARC fold, but for now, I cannot continue. If you wish to join with me and other alumni in communicating with the university administration on this subject, please send me a note and I will put you on the activist email list.
I am so sad that this action is necessary for me, and I remain hopeful that change is still possible.
Kevin G. Chapman
ASSOCIATE GENERAL COUNSEL