The grand staircase at the Thom Mayne-designed Cooper Union academic building at 41 Cooper Square connects four floors of the nine story building in a single, unbroken sweep.
Now imagine it blanketed with ping pong balls. No need to imagine, because it happened yesterday.
The ping-pong-pocalypse was the latest protest action by Free Cooper Union, a student group protesting the formerly-free university’s plan to begin charging tuition in 2014.
The video of the ball drop (raw footage above, edited video below) marks the one-year anniversary of the group’s first major protest, when 11 students started a week-long lockdown of Foundation Hall across the street.
The use of ping pong balls has a dual significance, according to student spokesperson Casey Gollan. The students were inspired by a group of Syrian rebels who used similar techniques to frustrate supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, although Gollan is quick to note they do not mean to imply a direct equivalency between the situation in Syria and East Village universities.
The other inspiration goes more directly to one of Free Cooper Union’s complaints, specifically about the replacement of Linda Lemiesz, the former dean of student affairs, with Stephen Baker, dean of athletics. According to Gollan, one of Baker’s first actions was to send an e-mail to students informing them the school had purchased six championship ping pong tables and was forming a ping pong club.
Students also held a protest march today leading to Fish House, which is traditionally the Cooper Union president’s residence.
The university hasn’t taken any action against the students involved in the ping pong stunt yet, said Gollan — but the group is concerned, given proposed changes to the university’s code of conduct. [Update: The ping-pong protesters might be in for a paddling]
So what was the point of all this? Drum up support from the student body? Get the message out that students are still fighting the administration and trustees over this change? Have a video with 2,100 ping pong balls go viral on Youtube? Yes, yes and yes, said Gollan. But also, it was fun.
“A lot of the work of opposing them is hard,” he said. “Sometimes to do something lighthearted is really great.”
The ping pong balls disappeared very quickly after the drop, leading Gollan to wonder if they were still somewhere in the building. If the Cooper Union Ping Pong Club starts using balls with green dollar signs drawn on them, we’ll know for sure.
Correction: This post was updated after a Cooper Union rep who yesterday said there were 1,500 balls said today that the correct number was actually 2,100.