Friday, October 18, 2019

The Band is Back from the Dead

Lee C. Bollinger tried to kill the Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB).  He took away their funding and got the Athletic Director to bar the students from playing at football games, either on the field or even in the stands.  Today, the day before the annual Homecoming football game, when hundreds of alumni come back to Columbia to socialize and cheer on their Lions.  Bollinger and the Columbia Administration, barraged by alumni complaints and negative media coverage of the dismantling of the CUMB, took action today to make the Homecoming alumni feel better -- the Band will play fight songs in the alumni tent before the game and will serenade the crowd during the game from the stands, supplemented by alumni musicians who traditionally show up to play along with the students.  For Bollinger, the storm will be averted and all the alumni can go home after the event with the impression that the situation has been solved, the band is back, and they can forget about it and go back to giving money to the school.

But there is a dark shadow lurking behind the Band's resurrection.  The deal struck between the administration, the student leaders of the Band, and the leaders of the Band Alumni Association, at least as presented in the school's official press release, contains concerning language about how the Athletic Department will have oversight over the Band's performances at athletic events, and the Band members will be subject to the Athletic Department's Code of Conduct.  Then, as far as any non-athletic events, the Band will fall under the oversight of the Columbia College administrators, particularly Dean James Valentini, who was one of the officials who acted to evict the Band from it's Orgo Night performances in 2016 and who punished the band members who defied the library ban in 2017.  The concern here is that the University has not cleared the Band to resume its normal, zany, activities, but rather has put a noose around the Band's virtual neck and will squeeze the life out of the organization over the next few years by dictating the Band's activities, censoring its performances, and continuing to ban Orgo Night (or severely restrict it and punish any deviation from approved scripts).

It's possible, of course, that Athletic Director Peter Pilling, is acting in good faith and just wants his band back for football and basketball games.  Maybe he wants to just provide funding and leave the Band's activities alone.  Maybe President Bollinger similarly is ready to wave the white flag and let the Band be the Band again.  But, history suggests that when powerful men and powerful organizations are embarrassed, they tend to strike back rather than admit defeat.  It would be typical for Bollinger to try to undermine the Band by restoring its funding, but only under draconian conditions.  It is also entirely possible that, after the Homecoming game is over, Bollinger, Valentini, and Pilling will decide that there are more "details" about the deal that have not been worked out, and in the end pull back and say, "never mind."  This would be the ultimate douche move, but don't think for a minute that it can't happen.

And, before we allow the administration to come out of this looking good because they caved to enormous pressure, let's review a few key points:

1.  Bollinger de-funded the Band as retaliation for the Band's actions in 2017 related to the Orgo Night show.  The new "deal" says nothing about whether Orgo Night will be permitted under the Athletic Department Code of Conduct, whether the AD will require pre-approval of the script, or whether Valentini will assert jurisdiction over Orgo Night as non-Athletic Dept. event and impose restrictions.  In any case, nobody in the administration has said that Orgo Night will be restored to Butler 209.  So, while the Band is better off today than two weeks ago, at best the Band is back to where we were a year ago -- still unhappy with the disingenuous actions and statements of Bollinger and Valentini and still waiting for Orgo Night to be restored.

2.  Bollinger and Pilling banned the students from performing at the opening home football game, and banned them from playing music in the stands, was based on the stated premise that the Band lost its privilege to perform because it was not a recognized student group registered with the student group oversight board.  The Band is still not registered with the board, but it is now allowed to play because it has the permission of the Athletic Department.  So, the Athletic Department could have granted that permission all along (as it did for the Staten Island Technical High School Band), and it did not have to de-fund the band because the leaders missed the phantom "deadline" to register with the student board.  Conclusion:  the putative excuse for banning the band based on the paperwork oversight was (as we knew) bullshit from the beginning.  If Bollinger wanted to let the Band play, even without being registered, he could have allowed it.  But he wanted to kill the Band, so he did not allow it and hid behind the stupid excuse.  The "deal" made today only proves that Bollinger and Pilling were lying to us all about how it was not possible to allow the Band to play.  All they needed was permission, and they are getting it now only because of alumni pressure and negative media coverage.

3.  The administration is being cute and clever about its press release, not saying anything about Orgo Night and leaving the impression that there will be additional oversight and control over the Band.  This is exactly what they wanted, so the administration giving in and making this deal on the eve of Homecoming may not be an indication of reasonable minds coming to their senses as much as Bollinger trying to save his Homecoming from disaster while still achieving his ultimate goal of neutering the Band.  We should be wary and make sure that whatever "deal" is ultimately hammered out clearly gives the Band freedom to speak and play as it pleases without censorship from Bollinger, Valentini, or Pilling.  When the Band chants its favorite "Lean to the left . . . " cheer, let's hope that Bollinger doesn't threaten to discipline the students and try to tone down the cheers (that's what a First Amendment scholar would do, right?).

4.  The fight for Orgo Night is not over.  When this December comes around, we will likely find out exactly what Bollinger and Valentini have in mind for the Band.  Will they step aside and allow Orgo Night to proceed (even if outside) without interference, or will they crack down and, perhaps slowly, exert control and "supervision" over the band in order to further suppress the Band's speech?

5.  What of the "musicians" who populate the Band?  The cryptic statements from Low Library include notes about improving the "musicality" of the Band and providing lessons for players.  When the band was briefly dead, Bollinger talked about creating a new band, with auditions. Let's hope that the inclusiveness of the CUMB is not destroyed by the administration's edict that if you can't play a traditional instrument well enough to satisfy the musical director, then you can't be part of the group.  The all-inclusive group nature of the CUMB is what makes it so great.  We can never let that die.

The fight is not over.  Don't be fooled by the relief of getting the Band back from the dead.  It's still in critical condition.  We must remain vigilant.

-- A. Ham.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Columbia's Disingenuous Response to Banning the Band from Playing at Sporting Events

The University's official canned response to angry alumni concerning the decision to ban the Columbia University Marching Band from performing at sporting events is below, along with appropriate commentary.

From Peter Piling, Athletic Director

{insert name of alumnus}

Thank you for writing and for giving me the opportunity to clarify some of the information that has emerged in reports about the Columbia University Marching Band (“CUMB”) and its relationship with Columbia Athletics. Specifically, the determination that, as presently organized, the CUMB will not perform at athletics events in 2019-20. [Clarify here means putting President Bollinger's spin on the ugly truth.]

We recognize that the news this week regarding the band is disappointing to some alumni, including many former CUMB members. But we want to make sure that everyone understands the current situation in full. [Oh, we understand the situation.  The assault on the Band is President Bollinger's personal crusade to silence speech he finds inconvenient and annoying.]

The athletics program has always been straightforward with band leadership about the relationship of the band to Columbia Athletics.  Traditionally, the CUMB has been granted access and admission to our contests. However, since the band is no longer recognized by the College and is not recognized by a student government activity board at present, the athletics program cannot allow the band access to our events. [This is complete horse manure.  For at least the past five decades, the CUMB was not "recognized by a student government activity board."  The Band's funding came from other sources, which is the only reason any organization on campus is "registered" with the administrative body that governs and hands out funds to student clubs and organizations.  When President Bollinger pulled the Band's funding as punishment for pushing back against his decision to try to kill Orgo Night, the Band was not kicked out of any "student government activity board;" they had not been a part of one.  Thus, the Athletic Department for decades provided funding to the Band and allowed the Band to perform when they were not an "official" student activity.  Therefore, the current decision to prohibit the Band from performing at athletic events has nothing to do with any change in the Band's status as a "recognized" student group.  It has only to do with the fact that President Bollinger has decreed that the Band should be suppressed.] We support our colleagues across campus in the decision to insist upon the band’s compliance with the rules governing student groups as a condition of continued affiliation with the University. [See above -- this is disingenuous obfuscation.  The "colleagues across campus" reference is to Low Library.  The AD does what the President says.  We understand that.  The AD has no power to stand up to Low Library, and cannot even object when President Bollinger makes him the errand boy for responding to angry alumni with a canned load of excrement that was clearly written by the office of the President.]

The decision to move forward this year with alternate performance options stemmed directly from the prevailing uncertainty regarding CUMB’s future, and our need to prepare in advance of the current football season. [There was no uncertainty.  President Bollinger orchestrated and planned this all along.  If the University wanted to have a marching band at football games, then there would be a band.  Here, the University wants to silence the Band, and so the Band has been silenced.]  We have confirmed arrangements for a number of alternate musical entertainment organizations for this season. [Good luck with that.  You can teach the Mahwah High School marching band to play Roar, Lion, Roar!, but you will miss having the band in the stands revving up the sparse football crowd and providing enthusiasm all the way to the last play regardless of the final score.]

As Columbia Football—and the athletics program, in general—continues to achieve success on the field of play, our athletics leadership believes that there is a tremendous opportunity to redefine the musical programs provided to support and enhance our events. [When the women's basketball team plays a 4:00 start on a Saturday afternoon and the Band is not there providing music and cheers, you can explain to the players' parents and friends who come to watch that the Athletic Department doesn't have funding to hire alternate musical talent to show up for a women's game.  Tell them to come back for the men's game, when the hired horns will be there.] We look forward to continuing to address this issue to meet the needs of our athletes, our fans, and the entire university community. [There is an easy way -- reinstate the Band.  You won't do that, because President Bollinger has decreed it, but "addressing the issue" is so obviously doublespeak here for "President Bollinger has decided that the Band must be silenced, and we just hope that our alumni will forget about this ugly incident and won't stop making contributions to the school."  The answer to both those hopes is -- there is a better chance that ice molecules will take a solid crystalline form in the realm of Persephone.]


Peter Pilling [a/k/a Prezbo's Lackey]

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Murder on Morningside Heights

Premeditated murder.  Contemplated, planned, and executed in a cold, calculated thrust of a knife into the heart of the victim.  Three years ago, President Lee Bollinger and Dean James Valentini decided that the Columbia University Marching Band was an annoyance that needed to be snuffed out.  They were disrespectful toward the university administration.  They were insubordinate, they refused to let Bollinger pre-approve the content of their routines, and their humor was sometimes vulgar.  Worst of all was their semi-annual "Orgo Night" program, which embodied all these characteristics, and which often produced complaints from students who were offended by some of the jokes.  The band was not disciplined, did not comport themselves with the appropriate honor and dignity, and was not something that Bollinger and Valentini could brag about to their Ivy League colleagues.  The CUMB was a tradition loved and laughed at by generations of Columbians, but it was not one that the administrators wanted perpetuated.

Step one was to kill Orgo Night, which Bollinger and Valentini did in the winter of 2016, as chronicled in the virtual pages of this blog. Ban the band from their signature performance, and deprive the students of the bonding experience of Orgo Night, and slowly start to drain the life blood from the victim.

Step two was to come down hard on the Band's leaders when the group predictably ignored the order that they were banned from the library, threatening them with disciplinary action and sending the clear message to underclassmen in the Band that there would be long-term negative consequences to continued failure to fall into line.

Step three was to take away funding from the Band, cutting it off from the resources it needed to survive.  Bollinger found an administrative loophole -- that the Band was not formally registered as a student organization within the normal budget and administrative oversight system.  The Band existed as an exception to the normal process, partially funded by an annual allotment of $10,000 from the Athletic department (mainly to offset the costs of travel to football games and basketball games), and partially by a special allocation of $15,000 from the university.  Bollinger, in retaliation for the Band's continued efforts to keep Orgo Night alive, withdrew the $15,000 of university funding from the Band.  His plan was to announce the de-funding at a time calculated to make it impossible for the Band's leadership to apply for recognition (and funding) from the usual student organization process.  That would leave the Band with less than half its normal financial resources, and at the mercy of the Athletic Department.

Step four was executed this week, when the Athletic Department withdrew its funding from the Band -- based on the pretext that the group was not an officially recognized student activity group.  Of course, the Band was never an officially recognized student activity group, which never caused the Athletic Department from providing funding and support in the past.  But now, as part of Bollinger's evil plan, the Athletic Department cut the cord, and banned the CUMB from performing at football games or any other athletic event.  The Band's halftime shows during football games often tested the boundaries of tasteful humor, and its chants from the stands sometimes offended older alumni.  The pep and spirit provided by the choruses of "Roar, Lion, Roar!" and other music during games was something that Bollinger could do without if it meant finally ridding him of the annoyance that the Band represented.

And so the Band is dead.  Murdered by Bollinger and Valentini.  Cut down and drained of funding, deprived of permission to perform, and threatened with sanctions if they formed an unapproved, unofficial pep group and tried to play music at future sports events.  They anticipated that the Band's inherent enthusiasm and school spirit would prompt them to work around the restrictions, and tried to cut them off in advance.

Generations of Columbians have memories of their college years filled with images and sounds of the Band playing in the gym, at Baker Field, and in the college reading room during Orgo Night.  Hundreds of loyal, money-donating members of the band alumni association will now shun homecoming and never donate a penny again to the school.  Columbia will be the only Ivy school without a marching band.

Bollinger thinks that he has accomplished a goal.  He will no longer be embarrassed by the the antics of "that zoo fraternity" that was the CUMB.  He is probably correct that the Band's current students will not build a float on the body of an old car and drive the "Deathmobile" onto the football field in order to disrupt the homecoming game and embarrass Bollinger.  They are not deadbeats who don't care about whether they get expelled.  They are high-achievers who would not jeopardize their futures in order to give a metaphoric middle finger to President Bollinger.

Perhaps members of the band alumni association will find an appropriate way to protest.  Perhaps even more alumni will withhold donations and let Bollinger know that his vicious murder of the CUMB has left a permanent scar on his legacy and on Columbia.  Many are now in mourning.  The next step will be to seek justice, and retribution on the murderer.  There is no justification.  There is no bigger picture.  There is only loss, and sadness, and anger.

Get angry.  Let President Bollinger know how angry you are. [President Lee Bollinger (212-854-9970,]  Then, we'll need to figure out how to rebuild -- how to resuscitate the CUMB.  Like the monster in a horror film, the Band will not stay dead.  Its bullet-riddled hulk will rise from the grave and haunt Bollinger for the rest of his days as President, which are now likely numbered.  He will eventually rue the day that he decided that killing the Band should be his legacy as President.  The Band will not die quietly, and alumni who love and appreciate the Band will not allow Bollinger's murder to be the Band's last chorus.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bollinger De-Funds the Band

If there was ever any doubt that President Bollinger continues to seek fealty and submission by the Marching Band, all you need to know is that, as punishment for defying the order to kill Orgo Night, the Columbia administration has cut all $15,000 of university funds from the Marching Band's budget.  The Band gets $10,000 directly from the athletic department, and the balance of it's $15,000 annual budget comes from the university, until now.  Cutting off funds to the band is the most blatant way for Low Library to exert pressure and try to beat the band into submission.

The Columbia Band Alumni Association will be raising funds to provide to the Marching Band outside the university's process. So, instead of donating money to the University, donate directly to the band alumni association.  Make a statement to support free speech.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ann Thornton Extends Orgo Night Ban

Head Librarian, Ann Thornton, made her decision today that Orgo Night has no value and that the sanctity of Butler 209 cannot tolerate the presence of the Band for a half hour twice per year.  Why?  No reason.  It's just the way she feels.  Forty years of tradition be damned.  It's her library, and she does not want the band to be there.  Other stress reducers, including bringing in cookies, and puppies and frisbees, are permitted.  Why?  Because Ann Thornton says so.

What are the consequences?  A large number of otherwise engaged and active alumni are now angry, disappointed, and will make no donations to the University.  Reunion classes in May will spend their time talking about Orgo Night and how the University has killed off the tradition for no reason and has taken away one more connection we had to Columbia.

Students will understand that the University is all about stress and the no-fun mentality of this administration.

It is sad.  Despite the outcry, the University administration, and particularly President Bollinger and Dean Valentini, have given Ms. Thornton permission to run roughshod over students, alumni, and University Tradition.

The administration should expect that this issue will continue to be a source of discussion among alumni and will be a black mark on Columbia for years to come.

And for what?  We really don’t know.  And that is, indeed, sad.

The Time Has Come

To:  Columbia University Administration and Influencers

The time has come to restore one of Columbia’s few traditions.  For forty-plus years, the Marching Band’s Orgo Night show has been a beloved and much anticipated event each semester.  The University continues to promote Orgo Night in admissions literature as a fun and entertaining break from finals studying, and it is cited in published surveys of unique college traditions.  The time has come to acknowledge that the decision in December of 2016 to ban the Orgo Night show from taking place in its traditional venue (Butler 209) was a mistake.  It is time to recognize that the current Band leadership takes an appropriately sensitive approach to writing the script for the Orgo Night show and has not included material in the show or in advertising materials for many years that would justify punitive action from the University Administration.

The Band had to organize the show clandestinely this past winter in order to stage the show in Butler 209, but it went off without any issues or complaints.  The cited reason or the original decision to ban the show from Butler has been debunked – there is plenty of quiet study space available elsewhere for those students who wish to avoid the distraction of the show.  No student has ever been caught by surprise that the Orgo Night show is happening in Butler 209 at midnight on the Thursday immediately before the start of finals week.  There really is no legitimate reason to continue to ban the Band from Butler.

Meanwhile, the decision has angered hundreds of otherwise supportive alumni.  At this year’s Homecoming festivities, members of the Band Alumni Association and others circulated petitions supporting the Band and criticizing University administration for its decision instead of discussing more positive subjects.  Many alumni have refused to make donations, including legacy gifts and annuities, in protest over the attack on the Orgo Night tradition.  Engaged alumni who volunteered with the ARC or university committees have resigned.  The Orgo Night decision has had negative ramifications for the University and it will continue to generate negative publicity, ill feelings, and disaffected alumni.

Reversing the decision will ameliorate these negative consequences and prevent their continuation into the future.  Reversing the decision will have no negative consequences on campus, and in fact will restore a beloved campus Tradition that current students can pass down to their own children.
Abraham Lincoln famously said:   “So soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.”  This is an instance where a bad decision needs to be reversed. 

It is time.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

In Defense of Orgo Night #13
Columbia to alumni:  Orgo Night is a “beloved tradition.”  Bollinger to Band:  Orgo Night is over.

          On November 9, 2017 the Columbia University Parent Fund sent out a fundraising email, over the signature of the CC class of 2017 Valedictorian, Michael J. Abolafia.  The purportedly personal message from Mr. Abolafia explained how his life was transformed by attending Columbia, and makes a plea to parents of current students to give to the Parents Fund.  The pitch opens with this message: “Dear {name of Columbia parent}, For all our beloved traditions—Orgo Night and Alma Mater’s owl, the tree-lighting ceremony and long afternoons at the Hungarian Pastry Shop—I wonder if there is such a thing as a typical or “average” Columbia College experience. That’s because the College is more than its traditions or its legacy: it is an ongoing, unfolding set of potential opportunities.”


            The Columbia administration apparently has a deep appreciation for how meaningful it is for students and alumni to share the “beloved traditions” that are unique to the Columbia experience.  First among such traditions, of course, is Orgo Night.  Mr. Abolafia, a member of the class of ’17, had the opportunity to attend six Orgo Night shows before President Bollinger, Dean Valentini, and Head Librarian Ann Thornton decided that the tradition was not worth continuing.  The administration conspired to end the Orgo Night tradition and, over the loud and continuous objections of students and alumni, they have steadfastly adhered to that decision.  Orgo Night is dead, they have decreed.  Never again shall that tradition be allowed.  We need to establish “new traditions,” they have said publicly, even if that means that current students will lose one more connection to the alumni of the past.

            The University has no shame when it comes to soliciting for donations, and it is happy to tug on the heartstrings of alumni, encouraging them to donate money so that future generations can share their “beloved traditions” such as Orgo Night, as if Orgo Night still existed.  Bollinger, Valentini, and the University Administration not only don’t want alumni to know that they have killed Orgo Night, they are affirmatively misrepresenting its continued vitality as if nothing had changed in the last forty years.  That’s the point of the pitch – that current parents should want to pass down these beloved traditions to the next generation.  We agree. 

It’s too bad that Mr. Abolafia’s children, if they attend Columbia, will not be able to share the Orgo Night tradition with their father.  Or, maybe the administration really does think Orgo Night is a beloved tradition, in which case it should be allowed to continue as it has for the forty years before 2016-17.  President Bollinger has dishonestly claimed that his administration is actively engaged in discussions with the Band about the future of Orgo Night.  That’s another lie to alumni.  No member of the administration has reached out to the Band.

So, Presbo, which is it?  A beloved tradition, or a dead letter?  At least be honest with your alumni.

-         Hamiltonius

-  H