Bureaucratic Bullcrap

Matthew Knowles

Last semester, over thirty students and I applied for interest housing this year under the moniker “Interfaith House.” We were very fortunate that the Office of Residential Life deemed our application worthy enough to be selected as one of the new themed houses on Broad Street and this year we reside in 104 Broad, happy with our achievement. New to the Street, we were very excited to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the interest and Greek houses by adding additional flair and creativity to the exterior and the interior. Moreover, we simply wanted our new residence to be comfortable and feel like a home away from home that the dorms never could be. This is where things got infuriating.

The first thing we tried to do was get a banner to display in front of the house. In the middle of the summer, we contacted the Publicity Club to draft a design for a vinyl banner that would display the name “Interfaith Interest House” super-imposed on a myriad of religious symbols, which we would hang in front of the house. After that, we contacted the print shop to get prices and size squared away. We were just about to pull the trigger and all that was left was to ask ResLife for permission. The answer we got was a flat-out “no, not allowed.” Despite my palpable irritation, I calmly asked why it was that fraternities were allowed to fly flags, hang banners or display wooden letters on their houses while we were not. The only response we got was “I’m sorry, managing that is not up to us.”  Thoroughly discouraged, I emailed Dean  of the College Suzy Nelson several days later out of desperation to find a way around this policy and finally was able to get somewhere. At the time of publication, although things look hopeful, we have yet to get approval to hang the banner and were told by ResLife that we might get it by mid-semester at the earliest.

A few weeks later, we asked for some curtains for the windows in our living room to shield us from prying eyes. Though a modest request, this became frustrating just as quickly as the banner. Res Life referred us to Buildings and Grounds, whom we asked “can we put up some curtains?” Buildings and Grounds responded by saying that only they could put up curtains. Naturally, we then asked Buildings and Grounds they could do so. They denied us with hostility.

Most recently, the house discussed a project where we would put up pieces of colored construction paper that spell our house name on some of the window panes. This was flat-out denied by ResLife as well, citing it as a fire hazard, although they said that it would be within code to put the paper up on the wall right next to the windows

instead. Infuriating.

Now, fire code is fire code and I am not here to debate its particulars, but what I am here to do is to bring to your attention how unsupportive, student-unfriendly and downright discouraging certain Colgate administrators and departments can be. All of the things that we wanted to do, all of which were meant to further our Interfaith House goals as laid out in our charter and application, were stopped dead in their tracks because we asked for approval. Now, let us contrast this with how many Broad Street houses, both interest and Greek alike, go about solving problems like this. Instead of asking for administrative approval they will simply go ahead and do what they want. No curtains? They’ll just put sheets on the windows and never get caught. Want a bigger sign? They’ll just put giant wooden Greek letters decorated with Christmas lights on top of their house because the administration will not say a word about it. When put in this light, it seems like the worst thing you can do to get things done is actually play by the rules and go through administrative channels, because they will inevitably frustrate you at every turn. Even if they approve your endeavor, you might not even see it come to fruition until you graduate because of the slow-as-molasses bureaucracy. Best to do things without approval and feign ignorance if the administration comes a-knocking.

I was informed by the University Chaplain Mark Shiner that Dean Nelson, on an email chain in regards to our banner situation, said something along the following lines: “we need to stop telling our students ‘no’ when they show initiative. Instead, what we need to do is work with them on their ideas until we can say yes.” This is the type of attitude that the rest of the administration needs to have if we actually want our students to flourish.

Contact Matthew Knowles at [email protected]