If you were to be taken on a tour of the headquarters for the Albany Times Union, you would come across a large picture hung prominently in one of its hallways. It’ll catch your eye and, for some of you, it might also illicit an audible gasp.
It is a photograph taken during the 2004 celebration of Fountain Day. The picture, seen on your right, is of two students (one male and one female) captured in a pose that unintentionally(?) looks like a scene out of a softcore porn flick.
The photo won an Associated Press Award, which is the excuse given for its prominent placement. The attitude of male staff members who giggle, point, and everything else short of high-fiving each other when they pass it might suggest otherwise, but that’s neither here nor there.
This image may not be pornography, but it is iconography. It’s the penultimate visual representation of the public image for a school that has been fighting an uphill battle to better its reputation academically and shed its reputation as a party school.
Then there was the Kegs and Eggs riot on the morning of Saturday, March 12th, which has thus far resulted in over forty arrests ranging from violations of noise ordinance to assaulting a police officer. Yesterday, the fallout continued.
As was first reported by the Albany Student Press’s twitter account (and subsequently on this space) Sunday afternoon, SUNY Albany has cancelled Fountain Day 2011, which was set to take place April 10th. It is a move that has seen a strong negative response from a student body that feels unfairly ostracized for the actions of a few, but may also be an unfortunate but necessary step for a school that has seen its reputation tarnished by the events two weekends ago.
Fountain Day started in 1978 as an unofficial celebration of the activation of the campus’s fountain. Over the course of the next thirty-three years, it grew into a gathering of literally thousands.
While intended to be a simple Spring celebration and gathering of students, it also has its dark side, with many drinking to excess and being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning among other disruptions. As a result, in recent years the event has been heavily monitored by both the University Police and local law enforcement.
Many argue that this isn’t much different from annual Spring celebrations at other colleges and Universities in the area. However, that conveniently discounts the fact that the University at Albany has a larger student population than St. Rose, Sage, Union, Rensselaer, and Siena combined, and as such puts a significantly larger strain on the resources of local law enforcement, ambulance services, and health care facilities than similar events.
Not to mention the fact that the University at Albany has an undeniable reputation as a party school despite the best efforts of administration to shake a reputation that has garnered not only some embarrassing press in the last decade, but also the wrong type of student.
Should it fall on the school itself and specifically its Admissions department to improve its standards? Perhaps, but in fairness to them, there’s simply no way to tell from a college application process and background check which students are going to contribute to the community and bolster the reputation of the school, and which one is going to smash up a car and embarrass his father on a national stage. It is clear, however, that this small amount of the population that generates so much negative public reaction and hostility towards the school is attracted to SUNY Albany specifically because of its status as a party school.
There’s an understandably defensive attitude coming from students in reaction to the cancellation of Fountain Day this year. It does seem unfair that the entire student body is being punished for the actions of what is a relatively small portion of its population. However, this isn’t exactly coming out of the blue. As noted, it’s a large affair that often encourages the wrong type of behavior, and over the course of the last several years has had to be increasingly more monitored and restricted as a result of bad behavior and transgressions.
The Administration has been looking to re-brand Fountain Day for some time as part of a larger effort to establish itself as a more serious public University that does not simply hand diplomas out like a cigarette vending machine at a bar. Many have complained that the Administration and SUNY President George Philip is conveniently taking advantage of an unfortunate situation to further their own agenda. I have to ask, though, if that agenda really is as nefarious or misguided as so many students paint it as.
The bottom line is this: SUNY Albany has been looking to shed the party school image for some time. It would be nice if Fountain Day had existed separate and apart from all of the academic and behavioral problems the Institution has faced in recent years, but in reality it has come to be an exemplification of it. It celebrated what the school was, but not what it should strive to be.
Something had to give. It’s unfortunate that it came the expense of so many who would have celebrated responsibly and who were every bit as shocked and dismayed at the behavior of some of their fellow students as others in the greater Capital Region were. But if that significant portion of the general student population wants to be separated from what has become an undesirable and at times criminal element amongst its own, and if they really are sincere and earnest in their desire to improve the perception that the general public has of them, then it might be wise to embrace those changes rather than fight them.
The Kegs and Eggs Riot were unprecedented. The reality, though, is that they were not an aberration so much as a culmination. Without changes to the overall direction and culture of the school and its students it was likely to only get worse.
SUNY students can either rid themselves of their reputation or maintain all the things that gave them that reputation in the first place, but they can’t have it both ways. It’s one of those hard lessons of adulthood that is usually reserved for the post-college “real world.” However, it is better for both students and the school as a whole that this important life lesson is conveyed now, before it’s too late.
- BREAKING: SUNY Albany cancels Fountain Day 2011timesunion.com
- SUNY needs a rational plantimesunion.com
- UAlbany seeks break from mayhemtimesunion.com
- UAlbany students take to the streets of Pine Hills; this time to do goodwnyt.com
- Students to learn consequences of actions articletimesunion.com
- Crime videos from the Kegs and Eggs 2011 (NSFW)timesunion.com
- Chancellor Zimpher delivers state of SUNY speechwnyt.com
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