Columbia University Marching Band banned from athletic events for foreseeable future

Days before the Columbia University Marching Band prepared to take the field for the Lions’ football home opener against Georgetown on Saturday afternoon, band leadership was informed by Athletics Director Peter Pilling, Associate Athletics Director Bob Steitz, and Director of Student Engagement William Lucas that the group would not be allowed to perform at upcoming athletic events.  The group, which has been in existence since 1904 and battled the university administration for years, “will no longer exist in any official capacity,” it announced in an official statement Wednesday.

The organization started in 1904 as the Columbia Marching Band, performing as a traditional marching unit. In the early 1960s, the band added the word “University” to its moniker, started going by the nickname CUMB (pronounced with a silent “B”) and became a “scramble” band.  Soon afterwards, the band performed two of its most infamous shows, 1964’s “Salute to Moral Decay” and 1966’s “Birth Control Show.”

Throughout the last 20 years, the self-proclaimed Cleverest Band in the World, has had several well-publicized run-ins with the Columbia community.

  • Columbia President Lee Bollinger apologizes to Catholic League President William Donahue, after CUMB offended members of the Fordham community at a pregame show before the 2002 Liberty Cup football game between the two schools.
  • CUMB is banned from performing at the 2011 football finale against Brown after altering the words of the school’s fight song to mock the winless team in the previous game at Cornell.  The ban, imposed by former Athletics Director Dianne Murphy, was lifted two days later.
  • Breaking an Orgo Night tradition started in 1975, in which CUMB played in the main reading room of Butler Library the evening before the school’s first final, typically organic chemistry, the band is denied entrance to the facility in December 2016.  The edict was issued by the University Librarian and Vice Provost due to complaints from students who needed to study and those who did not appreciate the edgy satire.

While CUMB played outside Butler Library in protest in for the 2016-17 academic year, the band snuck into the library in December 2017. Band members did not face discipline at that time, however, the group was given an official warning the following April.  After Columbia administrators informed the band that the group and individual members would be sanctioned if they performed at the end of the 2018 spring semester, CUMB again performed outside Butler.

In October 2018, representatives of Columbia College and Columbia Engineering informed the band that they would be removing its combined $15,000 funding for the 2019-20 academic year.  This left the band with only $10,000, provided by Columbia Athletics.

According to CUMB, the yearly $25,000 budget was needed for transportation to and from games, as well as for free musical lessons to Band members, who might have come from underprivileged backgrounds and otherwise not have had these opportunities.

A spokesperson from Columbia University provided an explanation to IHO:

The band was told one year ago that its funding affiliation with Columbia College and Columbia Engineering—which provided the basis for its performance at athletic events—would come to an end at the close of the 2018-19 academic year.  It was also explained then that the best path forward for them would be to become a recognized student group.  That would give them access to  the same funding sources as other student groups, and bring them under the umbrella of oversight and accountability that applies to their peers.  As an accommodation, their existing funding was extended throughout the past academic year.  They were reminded repeatedly of deadlines for applying for recognition.  Nevertheless, CUMB failed to meet the application deadlines of our student governing boards, bringing us to the current situation.

The CUMB Board acknowledges missing the spring 2019 application deadline. However, they have been actively pursuing recognition from the Activities Board at Columbia (ABC) during the fall 2019 cycle, a fact known by the university administration. This was too little, too late for school officials, resulting in the removal of the Athletics Department’s $10,000 funding and CUMB’s prohibition from performing at school athletic events.

In addition, CUMB says it’s been told that any individuals who attempt to play instruments or disrupt Athletics activities will be in violation of Ivy League regulations and subject to individual sanctioning under Dean’s Discipline.  When reached for comment, a representative of the Ivy League office stated that the rule being referenced can be found in Part VI of the Ivy League Manual:

The use of artificial noisemakers by spectators is prohibited in Ivy League venues unless the noisemaker is provided by the athletic department. [Administrative Committee, Spring 2011] (Page 55)

While a source close to the matter informed IHO that different options were being discussed with regards to the formation of a new spirit group, Pilling told the New York Times that his department plans to form a new band with a music director who will conduct tryouts, shortly after the conclusion of the football season.

“This is part of a broader move at Columbia to make the band more sanitized, more corporate,” CUMB Alumni Association president Samantha Rowan told the paper. “They want something that’s pretty on a brochure.” “The band doesn’t fit with the 2019 image of the administration,” echoed CUMB spirit manager Matthew Coulson. “It thinks of Columbia as an esteemed and serious institution that has no time for irreverence.”

The band manager noted that CUMB was willing to apply for recognition from the ABC and give up more control, but Columbia College and Engineering would not return the $15,000 in funding. As a result, the band withheld its application. When Columbia Athletics refused to meet with CUMB leadership in May, the band anticipated problems and applied to the ABC for recognition.

As they entered the fall, the manager felt the relationship with Athletics had returned to normal with the delivery of timing guidelines for their field shows at the upcoming football home opener. The September 25 meeting made the band believe Athletics’ previous action was nothing more than pretend.

CUMB believes that they will not be allowed to play once they receive recognition from ABC, given the athletic department’s comments that the decision to create a new band had been made months ago.

CUMB performed a “very early” halftime show before Columbia’s season opener versus Georgetown Saturday.

A GoFundMe campaign has brought in more than $25,000 in just a five-day span, surpassing its goal and allowing it to continue to travel to away games.

Looking ahead, the earliest CUMB could receive formal recognition by the ARC would be November.  If successful before the spring semester, the two groups could attempt to finally forge a compromise which would provide the administration with some level of oversight, CUMB with a portion of its budget and the Lions faithful with the return of its most infamous source of school spirit to Levien Gymnasium.

“Through continued pressure, we believe that the University will realize how integral a part of the University community the Band is and will be forced to come to the table to work out a compromise,” CUMB band manager Cameron Danesh-Pajou told IHO.

This post has been updated with information and quotes from Cameron Danesh-Pajou.

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