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ESC Tries Their Hand At Art Criticism

ESC Bureau Chief Finn Klauber reports on this week’s meeting.

Not Another Reclining Figure

The undergraduate representative from the Columbia University Committee on Art Properties offered two proposals to ESC regarding art on campus. Columbia has all types of art pieces in their collection, but we are unique in having no university museum or gallery to host our collection. The collection, based in Avery, is supposed to be used towards “educational purposes.” After the disastrous controversy regarding the installation of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, the committee added an undergraduate representative and truly seems to be heartfelt in their attempts to ensure the undergraduate community supports the Committee’s decisions.

The first proposal regards the Venetian wellhead in the center of Fayerweather Plaza. The wellhead’s base is very damaged, allegedly due to a surplus of events held in that location which include food catering. In particular, the representative highlighted the Business School’s use of the space, perhaps reflecting Business School students’ lack of art appreciation. Regardless, the wellhead is also used occasionally as a garbage bin, which is not only disgusting but entirely improper. As such, the Committee is proposing to move the piece to a hedged lawn in front of Earl Hall. The move would be completed in about three days during Spring Break.

The second proposal would install a new sculpture in Weston Plaza—the small green lawn in front of John Jay. The sculpture, an original by Paul Manship, is a stout sphere depicting the “zodiac, turtles, humans, [and the] eternal rebirth of life” according to the Committee representative. The axis of the globe would point towards the North Star, and the sculpture would be placed on a pediment in the middle of the lawn. The sculpture, like much of Columbia’s public art, is bronze, meaning that it can stand up to the hordes of drunk freshmen, frisbee players, and children who use Columbia’s campus as a playground. The sculpture also has a patina which matches the roofs of the surrounding buildings, adding to the overall aesthetic effect. If approved, the installation would take place during the summer.

Questions to the representative mostly regarded the preservation of the lawn’s space. As a lawn used extensively by freshmen, both for NSOP and casual activities, ESC worried that the area would be negatively altered—especially if Facilities closes other, more mainstream lawns during the winter. The representative assured ESC that the lawn would not be affected in terms of how Facilities treats the space, including during NSOP when the lawn is used to house the food tents. When asked about other areas of installation, including Butler Lawn, the representative explained that the Committee took seriously undergraduate criticism of statues placed amidst the “open field of vision from Butler to Low.” They considered using the NoCo/Pupin Plaza, but the installation expenses on North Campus are prohibitive. They also experimented with placing the sculpture on the fringe of Weston Plaza, but “it throws the balance off” and “feels uncannily strange.”

Concerns were also raised about continued access to open space, but the representative stated that keeping open another area during the year is wholly under the purview of Facilities, not the Committee. ESC will vote upon these proposals next week after the Council has had enough time to digest the proposals.

Who Advises The Advisors?

The second discussion topic involved ESC’s somewhat ongoing initiative to clarify tech electives, which are somewhat ambiguously defined electives which SEAS students need for their major requirements. President Garg met with Dean Morrison to discuss this, and his argument was that SEAS students should be able to go to major advisors with these questions. President Garg, however, summarily stated that “advising isn’t good enough here to have that be in place.” As such, she wanted to probe ESC about where advising is good and where it’s lacking.

Generally, most of the majors represented in the discussion had issues with their major advisors. In ChemE, for example, “advisors are pretty good [and it] seems like they manage to get back to students,” but tech elective requirements are ambiguously described and the advisor has to be queried on a course-by-course basis to see if the tech elective requirement is being fulfilled. In CS, on the other hand, the issue is numerical, with each advisor in the major having nearly 100 students to look after. IEOR also had mixed reviews, with one representative recounting how it took an entire semester for their major advisor to respond while another representative explained that advisors are helpful during their office hours. In BME, the advisors sometimes just refuse to meet with students, despite the requirement that they meet every semester. In OR, too, a representative emailed their advisor twice but, after never hearing back, “just gave up.”

Other problems include communications between CSA and major advisors, as major advisors can give information about coursework but all registration is done through CSA advisors, who generally do not know much about tech electives. This is a poignant issue, as ESC experienced a total stonewalling by CSA when trying to improve CSA advising two years ago. They were forced to begin a new peer advising program, through which perhaps this issue could be resolved.


  • The new dean of Global Programs is an engineer, meaning that SEAS voices should be represented more in OGP. Since it’s difficult to fit semester programs into a SEAS curriculum, ESC is looking into expanding non-traditional programs, to which Dean Morrison was very receptive.
  • When discussing her follow-up to the $600 textbook tuition hike proposed by Scott Wright, President Garg noted how “Spec completely quoted CCSC wrong on what they were…doing.” It’s good to know that Bwog is the only major publication on campus which doesn’t purvey fake news about student government.
  • ESC would love more people to join in the various JED committees, especially SEAS freshmen and sophomores. This would allow a degree of continuity in JED’s alleged efforts to improve mental health on campus—which have amounted to almost nothing in the past two years as far as I can tell.

Beauty in Repose via Wikimedia Commons

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