I am, first and foremost, an advocate of quality. Nothing mystifies and/or disappoints me more than the prospect of one more a cappella group materializing simply so that people who can’t get into other a cappella groups can get together and sing and say they’re in an a cappella group, because that’s important, for some reason, at Williams. It may be a nice gesture of unity, warm and toasty community and all that, but it simply means that at the end of the semester, virtually every venue will be taken up by a group of students who can’t really harmonize, can’t really project and can’t sing too well.
But, before this turns into yet another harangue about that lowliest of music forms, I’ll say that College Council has little to no authority to judge, subjectively, which groups are of a high quality and which ones are not (number four on the new bylaws). Who, pray tell, would make this decision? Another stupid bureaucratic organization, a Committee on High-Quality Living (CHQL)?
I’ll use the recent “Mad Cowgate” as an example. Nelson Hioe doesn’t like The Mad Cow, and he assumes, probably rightly, that most people agree that as a humor magazine it sucks. So he wants to axe its funding. Well, The Mad Cow’s an interesting example. It’s true that it has very little critical support on campus (though there are no quantitative figures on this, are there?), but this is, I think, irrelevant.
What is, I think, more significantly troubling is the utter lack of submissions to The Mad Cow. In the past two years, the magazine has slimmed down to a near-pathetic 15 or so pages. The same three or four people, in an editorial board that has consistently failed to obtain submission support, write most of its articles. What the organization boils down to is just some folks who aren’t willing to give the magazine up. Perhaps they aren’t adhering to a code of literary integrity that might say, “When, after a few years, you have virtually no critical or literary support, you should consider a publishing hiatus until things turn around.”
And, though I cringe at this notion of a failed yet stubborn art or sport or club, I would never consider relinquishing the power of organization or standard of quality to College Council, which is, after all, just another organization of students who want to be active.
And, lo and behold, this is personal. I am co-president of Cinephiles and co-president of Combo Za. I’m not worried about the latter – you’d have to be cracked to take Combo Za’s funding away, because we’d, well, we’d kill you in your sleep. But Cinephiles has always been under fire, because our business – renting 16 or 35mm films for $1 viewing consumption – requires that we have to spend lots of money and virtually never make the money back.
My question now would be, so what? We’re not Ford Motor Company. We provide a service to 60 or so students a week, one that is, I think (obviously I would think this, but when wouldn’t it be subjective?), genuinely artistic and educational and very necessary. Profits, or even balanced budgets, don’t interest me and should not interest you; because, hey, this is college and it is our time to use the System’s money to experiment, play around, try things out. When a group decides to quit is its own decision, and that’s it.
And though it leaves a mildly bitter taste in my mouth to say this, we should allow any semi-reasonable group (the Williams Baby-Stranglers or Williams Honor Code-Busters being obvious exceptions) to form and receive necessary funding if they want to, though its jokes may fizzle and its falsetto quiver. The money will always be there (surpluses aren’t donated to charity, right?), so why not indulge a sense of adventure, however pathetic?
The true liberal arts college is not a business. It is an island for experimentation.