Columbia Daily SpectatorFebruary 12, 2001
After Controversy, Future Orgo Nights Are in
After two straight troubled semesters, a treasured tradition faces
changes in venue and an uncertain future.
By Julianna Goldman
Spectator Staff Writer
When a fire alarm brought the latest rendition of one of Columbia's oldest and best-loved traditions to a sudden halt just after midnight on Dec. 15, many students filing out of Butler Library feared that the tradition--the more than 30-year-old Orgo Night--had ended with the bell. It's not the first time that Orgo Night has been in jeopardy, but as the leaders of the Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB) work to make sure the tradition lives on, major reform may be in the air for an event that has been so popular, at least in part, because of its anti-authority nature. Each semester since the 1960s, the band has marched into the main reading room of Butler Library on the night before the Organic Chemistry final, proudly playing their horns and proclaiming that their goal is to lower the curve by disrupting hard-working students. The event that follows--a roast of students, professors, and especially administrators punctuated by songs played by the self-proclaimed ''cleverest band in the world''--has become a hugely popular study-break for work-weary students. Orgo Night reached its peak last spring, when security estimated that over 1,000 people packed into the main second-floor reading room, many of them climbing on bookshelves, standing on desks, and sitting in windowsills. Manager of Security Operations Michael Crews said the crowd, filling a room zoned for a maximum of 200 people, caused considerable damage and dangerous conditions. Both Crews and Curtis Kendrick, director of access services for Butler Library, said the dangerous conditions created an immediate need for change in Orgo Night. ''The damage in the spring was significant,'' Kendrick said. ''[But] even more important than the potential damage, is the possibility of there being a serious accident and people getting hurt.'' CUMB Head Manager Angela Richardson, CC '02, acknowledged that the spring 2000 Orgo Night was unsafe. ''I had people whose feet literally were off the floor from people pushing and trying to get in,'' she said. ''We have always had a pretty big crowd, but it has never been to that level.'' Crews said that a number of factors created the need to lower the number of Orgo Night spectators. With the renovations in Butler, the room has been reconfigured due to new desks and new computer terminals. ''We don't have the space that we had years ago, that might have accommodated more people,'' he added. Also, last spring the band put up more posters than in previous years, Richardson said. There were also rumors about alcohol being present at the event. Richardson said she received ''several voice messages'' that said ''there was a rumor going around that [the band was] going to be handing out beer.'' That rumor, combined with a greater anticipated turnout than in past years, led to an increased number of security guards and other administrative figures present at the event. Alcohol did not prove to be a concern during the event, but when security guards tried to limit the number of students entering the reading room by closing the doors, the situation worsened. As students on the outside tried to push their way in, security guards blocked the doors, prompting student chants of ''let them in.'' The conditions in the spring prompted representatives from CUMB, Columbia security, the Columbia College Student Council, and Butler Library met this fall to discuss ways to continue Orgo Night in a controlled environment. ''The library's first response was that they didn't want Orgo Night to happen in Butler at all,'' Richardson said. ''To the band, it seemed like having it in the library was one of the key aspects of the tradition. And we wanted to maintain that. The only way we could do that to the satisfaction of the parties involved was to regulate.'' Richardson said that administrators proposed that the band hold the event in Lerner, which she acknowledged would have allowed many more students to attend without fire code problems. But she said that members of the band decided they could not stay true to the spirit of Orgo Night while holding the event anywhere other than the library. ''We all feel bad that people had to be shut out, but would it have been the same event in Lerner?'' Richardson asked. Instead, the band worked out an arrangement with the administration to hold the event in Butler, but under different circumstances. CUMB did not poster at all until half an hour before the event, and student marshals from the senior class were present to control the crowd. The band also worked with the student councils to arrange a second show in the Van Am Quad for students who could not get into the library, and the councils provided students with hot chocolate and hot cider. Because of the fire alarm, the band headed to the Quad early, and began their show again there. Changes were made, and according to Crews, security ''formulated a plan with the cooperation of the band members, and it worked out fine.'' The show was cut short by a fire alarm at about 12:15 a.m. Security determined that the alarm was caused by a ''maliciously pulled call box'' in the second floor lobby of Butler. According to Vice President for Facilities Management Mark Burstein, Butler Library has an ''addressable'' fire alarm system which allowed security officers to immediately determine where the box was pulled. He said a security guard near the box was able to establish that there was no actual fire. By that time, people had begun to evacuate the building. Richardson said she regretted the alarm, but she said the show was still a success. ''We had planned on having a second show [in the Van Am Quad], so there was some hot chocolate. We just finished the show there,'' Richardson said. ''It seemed to be going very well,'' said Kendrick. ''There were fewer people, but for those who were there they seemed to be enjoying it. It's unfortunate that it got cut short.'' But band members said what they regretted more was changing--some would say ending--of one of only a few traditions that they say make them feel connected to Columbia. ''I'm just as disappointed as anyone else. It is great to be in that room when there are 1,200 people,'' said Richardson. ''I have never been to an event at Columbia that has felt like that. We tried to think of different ways to have it and remain as true to the tradition as we could.'' Some in the administration however, insist that the tradition cannot go on as it has in the past, and would be better in another location. ''We might understand the tradition of it, but sometimes traditions evolve in order to remain vital and viable,'' said Kendrick. ''I would suggest a different venue, because there are just so many people who want to see it. It is such a good show. We need to find a place where that can happen and a way that that can happen.'' While no final decisions have been made as to the status of this semester's Orgo Night, the marching band and members of the administration are planning on having further meetings. ''You can have fun and safety in numbers at the same time,'' said Crews. ''We are just taking more responsible steps to make sure that nobody is hurt.'' But many students believe that moving Orgo Night, limiting the number of students who can be there, or otherwise submitting to administrative control would sacrifice one of Columbia's few sacred traditions. ''The whole point is that it's in the library and disrupts people's studying,'' said Carla Goudge, CC '03, who attended her first Orgo Night in December. ''I recognize the Administration's concerns,'' Goudge added, ''[but] Orgo Night is a tradition, and for that reason it's valuable.'' At Columbia, which so many students say lacks unifying traditions, they say everyone should be fighting to save the few that exist. ''I think it is sad that Columbia is willing to give up one of the few student traditions that promote campus unity,'' said Andrew Kugajevsky, CC '01