After Fountain Scare, DOS Walks Thin Line
The administration has touched a nerve, and a rare anger from students has spread throughout the campus. As of this writing, nearly 400 of students and alumni have joined the Facebook group, previously named “Don’t Drain our Traditions”[i] and now operating as "The Thesis Fountain Party Fan Club." The latest outbreak of student rage erupted yesterday when Senior Class President William Robelo-Lara’s announced a DOS review of the Thesis Fountain Party.[ii] Some seniors have witnessed this celebration happen seven times before and almost all have eagerly waited four years for their turn at this CMC tradition. Various administration officials scrambled to respond to student outcry late into the evening. John Faranda used his Facebook profile to respond to the new group. Dean Huang sent an email out to the student body to calm things down, which was followed by another this morning. "We have agreed to let the Senior Thesis Fountain Party continue, in its old location," he wrote, "but simply want those participating to be respectful of others and noise issues." It was not made clear how student sentiment factored into the recent decision.
The timing of this incident could not have come at a worse time for the administration. Poor Andrew Brewer, Assistant Director of Annual Giving, has scheduled an event to collect senior gifts at the Senior Apartments tomorrow night. My guess is that seniors will be happy to take the free sandwiches and beer, but be far less generous with their wallets in light of recent news. Some seniors who have already donated have even been threatening to cancel their senior gift, but the viability of this option remains unclear. Furthermore, with many high school students expected on campus in the coming weeks, and many of them considering whether to accept CMC’s offer of admission, the Office of Admission must be concerned about an angry and unhappy student body expressing their feelings to prospective students.
The Fountain Party fiasco represents only the tip of the iceberg of student discontent. This year the administration, led by the Dean of Students, has launched a concerted attack on CMC’s culture by canceling or amending many traditions. The Dean of Students indefinitely canceled TNC on the eve of Spring Break before announcing a reinstatement of the tradition starting this Thursday. In addition to beefed up security (reportedly staffed by the CMS Football Team) and fencing, TNCs will now be CMC-only with the exception of a guest list for friends of CMCers. The Dean of Students Office seems to be repeating the same strategy with the Fountain Party. After 26 years, the Madrigal Feast was canceled. Madrigal had been in danger for years and the Athenaeum had grown tired of holding the event, but it was a deeply unpopular move nonetheless.
Some of these have been attributed to Mary Spellman’s arrival at Dean of Students. Charles Johnson argues that killing traditions was her legacy at Sarah Lawrence College and he speculates that she was brought to CMC for that purpose. CMCers complained that with the Fountain Party and Madrigal Feast gone, two of the four traditions mentioned on Claremont McKenna College’s Wikipedia article have ended.[iv]
The CMC student body is deeply resentful of the administration’s assault on CMC traditions. A typical reaction was voiced by senior Max Mautner, “How can the administration be so stupid to remove a popular tradition just as an entire class is about to graduate?” In regards to the administration’s rationale for ending the Fountain Party, the reported complaints about students getting wet and professors disliking the noise don’t seem compelling to students. The fountain can be avoided with only a minute of extra walking time and the sound coming from the celebration can hardly be any louder than the construction of the “Taj MaKravis.” If some of these events are causing problems, the administration should proactively work with students and ASCMC to change them for the better rather than unilaterally canceling or modifying them.
More fundamentally, the administration’s approach seems guided by an overall strategy of trying to end CMC’s “party culture.” Way back in September, the administration met with RAs about semester-opening party events, stated that “things have to change,” and even threatened to turn CMC into a dry campus. If this is the administration's strategy, they are highly unlikely to succeed. Fellow Forum writer Kevin Burke has made the poignant observation that partying is the dominant status game at CMC and the administration can’t change that reality. Moreover, the administration shouldn’t be in the business of trying to air-dry CMC. Students come to CMC knowing full well that we have an open drinking culture with parties available to all. Along with many other organizations, the Student Life Committee provides plenty of opportunities for socializing without alcohol. Students are capable of self-policing and feel comfortable criticizing their peers’ poor judgment. For most of its history, CMC has successfully discouraged drunk driving and alcohol poisonings by holding large, on-campus parties with a lax alcohol policy where students feel free to seek help if they need it. We absolutely should preserve this aspect of the CMC experience.
[i] The name of the Facebook group appears to be a reference to the rumor that the administration will drain the fountain on the day thesis is due to prevent the champagne celebration from happening in it.
[ii] Despite Michael Wilner’s suggestion, I refuse to call this incident “Fountaingate”.
[iii] Yesterday, I emailed Dean Huang, Dean Nauls, and Dean Spellman to get information about this story. Only Spellman responded by telling me to speak with Dean Nauls.
[iv] Somebody evidently updated the article just hours after William’s announcement.