February 14, 2010

Meditations on The Longest Month

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Did you know that February is Latin for failboat? No seriously, true story.

As a child I was never really the sharpest tool in the shed. My older sister informed me that the human mouth leads to two separate tubes — the trachea and the esophagus. I figured air and drinks went down one tube, because they’re both fluids, and solid food went down the other. When high school biology came around, I was incredibly excited to find out what happens in the case of partially-melted ice cream and yogurt.

And then there was the matter of the letter “elemeno.” Learning my favorite letter did not exist was sort of like being told Pluto is not a planet.

Another misconception that prevailed throughout my childhood was that February was the longest month of the year. I mean, it always seemed to be true. It’s cold, dark and devoid of school vacations. It just seemed to drag on forever.

Urban legend tells of a poll in which MIT undergraduates were asked why it’s cold in winter. As the story goes, the majority of students responded that the Earth orbits farther from the Sun in winter.

I suppose Africa and South America prepared for this by installing continent-wide central heating.

My question is this: why is February, though only an average of 28.25 days1 long, secretly longer than July and August? I think the planet spins slower in February, because it has a head cold. Or maybe it involves some sort of 2012 apocalytpic galactic-center neutrino crap. John Cusack is my Facebook doppelganger.

These days, February has been looking a bit brighter. The Winter Olympics are back, complete with all my favorite “gag sports” — biathlon (skiers with guns!), curling and skeleton. Ten bucks goes to the first person to spot the Jamaican bobsled team.

And here on East Hill, we have a lot to be thankful for this February. ESPN placed Cornell basketball in the top 25 for the first time in decades, proving that rich northeastern schools can succeed at sports beyond crew, polo and professional collar-popping.

And Degrassi fans are all a-twitter over the announcement of Drake as this year’s headliner for Slope Day. I’m so glad we decided to mix things up this year by choosing a marginally-famous rapper with a hit single straight off of fratmusic.com.

Confession: I was a member of the Facebook group, “Lady Gaga for slope day.” A gay can dream …

What were we talking about again? Oh yeah February …

Sadly, February hasn’t been all sunshine and Canadian tween-show stars.

The recent debacle over at The Schwartz Performing Arts Center funding honestly has me scratching my head. The Sun originally reported that of $6 million in total cuts the College of Arts and Sciences must make this year, the Schwartz Center was asked to shoulder $1-2 million over the next two years. Glancing at these numbers, it appeared the Performing Arts at Cornell had some sort of budgetary messiah — Jesus Christ sacrificed upon the cross to save all Cornellians from their financial sins.

Later Dean G. Peter Lepage responded in a Sun op-ed, noting that within the past two years, Arts has enacted $15 million in total cuts, with inevitable future cuts on the way. As the Sun originally reported, the department has an unusual proportion of staff members — production technicians and senior lecturers — to tenured faculty. If I were to guess the dean’s ultimate reasoning, I’d reckon it went along the lines of, “We can trim the Comp Lit faculty or switch to low-budget black-box theater in the Schwartz Center.” Which would you choose?

I don’t envy the jobs of Lepage, Fuchs and their small army of deans and vice-provosts over in Day Hall. Every strategic cut comes with its own set of angry dissenters, myself sometimes included. In my defense, when the Phys-Sci Library was cut, at least my op-eds made people chuckle. None of this, “The battle of Fine Arts against the armies of Mordor has begun!!!!”

In her guest column last week, Amanda Idoko directly criticized the Arts and Sciences administration, asking, “Why are the deans ‘strategically’ choosing to protect one department over another? I am sure that they will argue that this is not the case; that they are not in fact ranking the departments on ‘value’.” Actually, that exact strategy was stated by Arts and Sciences last semester within their task force summary: “The committee developed a conceptual framework for prioritizing departments, based upon two characteristics: a) the impact of a department upon the reputation of a college of arts and sciences; and b) the current quality of that department at Cornell.”

Consistent with this strategy, Arts and Sciences divvied up departments into three separate categories: “Cornerstone” departments that every respectable liberal Arts school supports well, like English; “excellent” departments that, while arguably less essential, bring the university distinction, like music; and everything else, including Theater, Film and Dance.

If it were really a “war against the arts” why would music be one of merely four departments Arts and Sciences identified as exceptional? If Cornell was gung-ho about sacrificing high culture, why are we expanding our museum while so many schools are slashing the fine Arts, canceling construction projects and auctioning off masterpieces? And if our university really didn’t value the aesthetic and the intangible, why is their talk of retooling AAP into a stronger, broader, design college?

But Cornell’s new-found inability to compete with Julliard, Boston Conservatory, NYU and UCLA? Now that’s the frosted icing on February’s bitter cake.

Along with the usual tax forms and arctic cold fronts, February has brought throngs of Dead-Heads onto campus for a concert by the band Furthur. Since the historic Grateful Dead concert more than 30 years ago, a lot has changed on this campus. Cornell, once a hotbed of activism and counterculture, has traded long, unkempt hair and megaphones for Tory Burch flats and signing bonuses.

In an e-mail obtained by the popular online blog Gawker, CUPD Sergeant Philip D. Mospan warns members of Cornell’s thriving Greek community to lock their doors as “this particular group of fans will set up camp wherever they can and will certainly avail themselves to the warmth of any open building.”

I guess February isn’t the only one coming off as cold and heartless these days.

1. People with too much free time may point out that February is not exactly 28.25 days long on average, as corrections every century and four centuries depress that average slightly.

Munier Salem is a former Sun Assistant Design Editor and founded the Science section. He is a senior in the College of Engineering. He may be reached at msalem@cornellsun.com. Critical Mass appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Munier Salem