Confusion Corner: Baffling B-School Balloon Ban

GRAPHIC BY ASHANTI JONES // THE FLAT HAT

If you’ve ever had the deep misfortune to be subscribed to the Raymond A. Mason School of Business’ listserv, you’ll notice that at the bottom of every email is a simple phrase, “no balloons in Miller Hall.” If you ask an authority (which you never should), they’ll tell you that the rule against balloons stems from the fire detection system, citing some complicated method of laser beams to detect smoke. And yet this shallow, straightforward answer cannot be all there is. The balloon ban must go deeper.

Anyone who’s been inside Alan B. Miller Hall could easily describe its physical features: pale marble, high ceilings and even some ridiculously comfortable armchairs. Yet beneath its shiny veneer lurks a feeling of deep-seated unease that isn’t present in any other building on campus. In our squishy, feel-good, liberal arts environment, disagreement is encouraged. Classroom discussions are the epicenter for intellectual discussions, the egg from which the bird of new ideas hatches. Yet, in Miller Hall, the musical birdsong of discussion is replaced with the lifeless tapping of keyboards, the rhythmic clacking of sensible heels on polished marble and the dull hum of information emanating from every lecturer.

Even individual expression, perhaps in the form of an ironic t-shirt or embroidered jean jacket is stripped away, as the B-School requires its devotaries to don the suitable business attire of knee-length dresses, blazers and uniformly uncomfortable shoes. The usual rainbow of identity is crushed under the patent leather loafer of 21-year-old finance majors whose names are almost invariably “Braeden” or “Nick.”

Imagine the sterile environment of Miller Hall, the magnitude of its uniformity nearly drowned out by the sheer depressive nature of its content. Now imagine a balloon, and you’ll see why the laser beam smoke detector hypothesis goes out the window.

A balloon is the opposite of all the traits Miller Hall holds dear. Balloons reject uniformity: from the cheap rubber spheres from the dollar store to the shiny mylar SpongeBobs of your local supermarket, they thrive in their idiosyncratic variety. A balloon cannot be contained. Despite your best efforts at control, perhaps tying them to a table or wrapping the string around your wrist, a balloon cannot be moored in a single harbor. Balloons yearn to be free, to linger at the top of stairwells and in the peaks of roofs, leaking their precious helium until one day, when they are ready, they come drifting gently down. Balloons yearn for the freedom of the sky, released en masse by corporate publicists or one-by-one by foolhardy children at carnivals. A balloon defies both definition and constriction.

So I ask you. Why are balloons forbidden from entering Miller Hall? Is it really because their presence disrupts the oh-so-fragile ecosystem of the smoke detectors? Of course not. It is because a balloon is the antithesis of the B-School ethos. In a building full of black blazers and dark computer screens, where soulless corporate entities lurk in every shadow, a balloon could be dangerous. A balloon could remind the students, whose heads are perpetually bowed over their accounting homework, that a world exists outside of Miller Hall. Outside of the narrow concrete path that leads to a life of corporate drudgery. Up in the sky, in the open air, where a balloon longs to be. Freedom. What a dangerous idea.

The B-School cannot handle the chaotic idleness of a balloon, and so they ban them, along with every shred of individualism that manages to survive between those marble columns.

No room for dissent.

No space for creativity.

No balloons in Miller Hall. 

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