In April, this column described how more than 1,200 students at Columbia University signed a complaint against a coming installation of Henry Moore’s signature semi-abstract sculpture of a reclining female in front of Butler Library. The undergrads called the work a “monstrosity,” among other slurs, even though similar sculptures by the same artist stand on sites at Princeton University, Chicago University and MIT. His sculptures also stand in the collections of leading museums, like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Tate in London. None of those exhibit credits mattered to these students.

Moore’s “Reclining Figure” is just not good enough for their school, they said.

How far should student rights go?

Now that contention over the sculpture at Columbia is in the news again, this time to announce that the work was installed on Dec. 14, though not on the originally designated spot by Butler Library. But a question remains that has gone unasked: Should students have a say about what art their school opts to collect? For a “no,” one might argue that students aren’t permanent residents and giving them a say in what a building puts on its site is like allowing tenants renting apartments to make demands about the aesthetics of its architecture. The answer becomes a clear “yes” when talking about school architecture.

What is it?

For example, if students thought a semi-abstract figure is a “monstrosity,” one can only imagine how they’re view the nine new university buildings that Architecture Digest has named “best”: Zaha Hadid Architects design for a building at the American University of Beirut is set so off its axis that it looks like it’s about to topple.

Thomas Phifer and Partners’ expansion at the architecture school of Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina – a campus normally replete with traditional brick structures - looks so flimsy that you’re liable to think it’s made of toothpicks and cellophane. And the ovoid shaped forming Senzoku Gakuen College of Music in Kawasaki, Japan covered over with stainless-steel resembles an interplanetary space station.

Who should win this argument?

And if students think that Zaha Hadid’s design for the American University of Beirut is upending, that goes double for her styling of the Library and Learning Centre at the Vienna University of Economics and Business because it tilts at a full 35-degree incline. As well, a second structure by Hadid offers ribbon windows that go wildly off course. These buildings also earned Architecture Digest’s vote of excellence for new university structures. Architecture like this could easily prompt student objections. The question is, should those objections rule? My answer? Schools are intended for those who study in them. The students get dibs.

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