Another Day at Columbia: Tuition Goes Up, But Life Goes On

Another Day at Columbia: Tuition Goes Up, But Life Goes On

Produced by HuffPost's College Reporting Team

It's March. For Columbia University students, this means a number of things. It means that sophomores are agonizing about choosing their majors. It means running late to class, knee-deep in snowmelt. It means that the campus arms of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student groups -- LionPAC and Columbia SJP, respectively -- have set up shop on opposite ends of College Walk. On one side, there's the cardboard "Israeli Apartheid Wall," on the other a series of graphic photos of public bombings. In between, there's a bake sale hawking "apolitical ginger snaps." That is to say, it's just another day at Columbia.

Students elsewhere are involved in the aftermath of the Student Day of Action. In New York -- about 100 blocks downtown -- NYU students took to the streets to "reclaim our universities and ourselves from pseudo-existence" (according to a Facebook group).

The outage is evident, the passion palpable. Just look at the name of a blog set up by New School students: "Reoccupied". These kids seem to know how to start fires.

But up at Columbia, the mood is different. Armin Rosen, a senior editor at The Current, an undergraduate journal of politics and culture, doesn't seem swayed by the school's protests: "It was kind of a non-event," he said. "Some high-jacking students set up in the student center and tried to take it over, with limited success."

Thanks to the riots of 1968, Columbia will always represent the elder statesman of student protests. And it's not as though we've forgotten our storied past completely.

Two years ago, after a rash of campus hate crimes and with Columbia's controversial expansion into Harlem looming, students mobilized a hunger strike on the South Lawn. After much brouhaha, including several counter-protests and counter-counter-protests, it ended with a smattering of minor administrative concessions (which seemed to be in the works anyway).

But as Rosen explained, "Most of the campus protests in New York private schools have no bearing on the financial state of the institution. They focus on things like ethnic studies, the president's politics, the educational philosophy of the school. They put out a million demands, then never reach a critical mass of support."

I asked Columbia senior Ameneh Bordi if she had even heard of the March 4th student protests. "The Israeli/Palestinian ones?" No.

Jacob Rice, a sophomore, didn't recall the protests until I reminded him that he is from Berkeley. "Oh, right. They took over the highway and some dude got punched."

I asked another voice on the Walk why Columbia didn't seem too agitated: "We only protest stupid shit," said a junior who wished to remain anonymous. Why anonymous? "Because I don't want to get angry e-mails from the Israeli and Palestinian protesters."

To be fair, Columbia has been spared from much of the financial burden endured by public institutions. Rosen informed me: "I know for a fact that Columbia really absorbed a lot of the endowment loss by cutting superficial programs and bureaucratic reshuffling -- such as moving the CU Arts Initiative under the direct control of the School of the Arts," a move which ignited the ire of the Columbia Spectator editorial staff and the 511 Facebookers who started a protest page.

It's not that we don't care about rising education costs too. Why, when the CU gossip blog, The Bwog, runs a story about a new Coke machine in the engineering building, commenter "Anonymous" bemoans: "prices will probably go up, boo." Such is our outrage. Columbia 2010: leave me alone, and give me a job.

Berkeley is burning. But we're busy eating cookies.

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