Columbia administrators should allow CUMB to play at home athletic events

Institutions of higher educations exist for the benefit of their students, not the other way around.

Columbia should take heed.

In case you missed it, the university has prohibited the Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB) from performing at athletic events.

The prohibition is now in its second week of effect with no end in sight, and the university attributed it to CUMB failing to meet student governing board application deadlines. Columbia is moving forward under the assumption that CUMB will not be performing at events going forward.

Columbia athletic director Peter Pilling told the New York Times that the plan is to form a new band, perhaps soon after football season ends in late November, with a music director who would conduct tryouts.

That’s in stark contrast to CUMB, which accepts everyone who is interested in joining with a come-when-you-can attendance policy, providing an outlet for students to bond and form a “real community” amid the university’s “stress culture,” as CUMB’s poet laureate Isabel Sepulveda wrote in an op-ed published by the Columbia Daily Spectator late Sunday night.

The university at large began withdrawing support for CUMB last year when it told the band that funding from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering would come to a close at the end of the 2018-19 academic year, taking away $15,000 of its $25,000 annual budget.

Undergraduate Student Life Dean Cristen Kromm told the Spectator at the time that the band “has not been accountable to any structure or support network because they are not a recognized student group,” a quote that signaled the university sought greater control of the band after it defied administrative orders by holding Orgo Night, inside Butler Library in 2017, a year after the university banned the band from holding Orgo Night, a tradition in which the band occupies a room of the library to play music and tell jokes at midnight on the first day of finals.

It was the university, then, that denied the band a 30-year-old tradition, cut 60% of its budget and then ultimately banned it from playing at athletic events entirely.

CUMB head manager Cameron Danesh-Pajou sent an email to Pilling on May 8, acknowledging that the band was “in a state of limbo,” and asked for a meeting, according to the New York Times. Danesh-Pajou said he never got a response, and Pilling declined to say why no effort was made to speak with the band.

Danesh-Pajou confirmed to Ivy Hoops Online that previous attempts to Columbia Athletics to reach out and discuss future developments went unreturned.

A Columbia Athletics official told Sepulveda did not give any indication that a ban was forthcoming in communication with Sepulveda just two days before Athletics informed CUMB of the ban, according to email correspondence between the two sides obtained by Ivy Hoops Online writer Rob Browne. Pilling apologized to the students for the late notice, per the New York Times.

But that’s not good enough.

Pilling has demonstrated in the past that he can make extraordinary things happen when he wants to, like luring former Penn football coach Al Bagnoli out of retirement to take over at Columbia and turn around the Lions football program. Pilling told the Times that the football budget was expanded “substantially,” allowing Bagnoli to increase spending on recruiting and travel; expand the coaching staff and improve its salaries; and hire two additional football-only strength and conditioning coaches (including a speed coach), and a full-time player personnel director. Columbia also replaced the artificial turf at Kraft Field.

If Columbia Athletics can commit logistically and financially to such significant moves, surely it should have been able to work through any logistical challenges standing in the way of CUMB performing at athletic events and broker some sort of compromise with the band.

The band may have failed to meet the application deadlines of Columbia’s student governing boards as recommended to them by the university, but it was never going to get its $15,000 from Columbia College and Columbia Engineering anyway. Unlike most student groups, the band is not a recognized group under either the Student Governing Board or the Activities Board at Columbia, and the university has signaled it’s fine with leaving one of the most energetic student groups across Ivy athletics in the lurch.

Ivy hoops fans know that CUMB has been the driving and characteristically irreverent force behind the often raucous atmosphere at Levien Gym in recent years.

“It was a way that I knew that I could support my fellow students and hopefully bring some spirit to an all-too-often lackluster crowd,” read one response from a current band member included in Sepulveda’s Monday night Spectator op-ed.

“The band is a place where the toilet seat player matters as much as the jazz trombonist,” Sepulveda wrote. “It’s a place where people can safely socialize … It’s a place where we can vent our frustrations about this campus and world, which feels like it’s falling apart, in a way that makes people laugh and dance. But above all, it’s a place where we’ve found a home.”

There is precedent for administrators and students finding agreement after controversy over Orgo Night. Dan Carlinsky, a former adjunct manager of the Columbia University Bands, director of College Relations for Columbia College and director of publications for the University’s Office of Public Affairs, noted in a 2017 Spectator op-ed that students and administrators negotiated a settlement in 2001, restoring Orgo Night to Butler after it had been declared off-limits.

He also noted that the Columbia College Fund emailed alumni and parents a pitch prominently touting Orgo Night as one of Columbia’s “beloved traditions” in late 2017, so Columbia College’s donor fund sought to profit off of the tradition of Orgo Night a year before the College funding for CUMB was cut.

Fortunately, the band plays on.

CUMB performed a “very early” halftime show before Columbia’s football season opener versus Georgetown and is continuing to play at road games. Showing just how valued the band really is, a CUMB Alumni Council GoFundMe fundraiser garnered $25,000 in just five days, meeting the council’s fundraising goal.

But Danesh-Pajou told IHO’s Rob Browne Monday that raising $25,000 through alumni alone is not a sustainable model.

Danesh-Pajou said CUMB officially submitted its application for recognition to Undergraduate Student Life Monday, with a decision expected in early November.

Hopefully CUMB gets recognized that way.

Still, it should have never come to this. Columbia administrators no longer care to allow the band’s students to come together and play at athletic events that are supposed to be about, well, school togetherness.

“(Administrators should) avoid producing alumni who don’t give a damn and won’t give a dime,” Carlinsky wrote in 2017.

Replacing Kraft Field’s artificial turf is a winning move. Replacing CUMB is a losing one.

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