The famously boundary-pushing Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band has been suspended for the rest of the academic year, Stanford administrators announced Dec. 9 -- a decision that has sparked an outcry from current and former band members, students and alumni.
In addition to the enforced hiatus, the irreverent student-run organization will be revamped and placed under the leadership of a professional music director, who will be responsible for the group's membership and operations, stated a letter to the band from Greg Boardman, vice provost of student affairs.
The move, Boardman said, stemmed from what he called the band's repeated violations of university policy and a failure of the group to reform its culture.
The irrepressible band has long been under scrutiny from the administration, but in May 2015, it "was found responsible for a number of violations of university alcohol, Title IX and organizational conduct policies," the university's announcement of the suspension noted. "Over the last 18 months it has been operating under an alcohol suspension, a travel ban and a requirement that the band make a series of reforms to improve its culture.
Following a recent investigation, the university's Organization Conduct Board on Dec. 1 said that it had found fresh violations.
"We are deeply troubled by the fact that (the) band has not yet fulfilled the requirements set forth in the May 2015 outcome letter," the board's hearing report stated. "This leaves us feeling that the outstanding issues have not been taken seriously by the band or its leadership and that nothing more will be accomplished without extreme consequences."
"We do not feel that the current leadership or membership is capable of creating the necessary cultural change," the board wrote. "We feel there is a total lack of accountability and responsibility in the current organization."
While the conduct panel recommended a suspension of the band through the end of the 2017-18 academic year, Boardman shortened that penalty, citing his belief that the band would have difficulty reassembling after such a long hiatus. In addition, his letter stated, the punishment would affect new and future band members as well as the campus community as a whole.
Leadership of the band using a professional music director is not a new idea: 30 years ago the band had a "collaborative" leadership model of students and music director Art Barnes, Boardman said in his letter to the band.
Backlash against the university announcement on Friday was immediate, with some students online criticizing what they called the university's "hypocrisy and authoritarian perspective" and "nanny state."
The editorial board of the Stanford Review chastised the administration for making a decision that it said completely overlooked reforms band members have instituted in the past two years.
"The university's punishment is clearly unfair," the editorial board wrote. "The band has clearly done more than most student organizations to reform its ways and to comply with university policy.
"As has been true for the past two years, Stanford's treatment of the band is both unnecessarily punitive and inconsistent with that of other student groups," the editorial board said.
Sam Weyen, the Stanford Tree, told the Review staff, "The band is being held to a standard to which no other organization has ever had to comply."
Among the violations the band has been charged with, the editorial stated, were "buying pitchers at Treehouse, showing up drunk to rollouts, and violating a travel ban by using band funds to rent a cabin at Lake Tahoe.
However, "band members have disputed all of these claims to the Review," it stated.
The editorial board argued for the value that the wacky, creative band has brought to the university.
"The Leland Stanford Marching Band is one of the few traditions left that unites an increasingly disparate student body in a celebration of idiosyncratic culture. The university could have pursued a more moderate course of action, but instead chose to make the band a political scapegoat," the editorial board wrote.
Plenty current and former band members took to social media to denounce the university's decision.
"If you weren't accepted into Stanford today, don't worry about it. Take your energy somewhere else. Somewhere that still values irreverence, vitality, and the importance of criticism and self-expression. Somewhere where Big Brother hasn't been yet," wrote one sophomore band member.
As part of the suspension, band members cannot access the Band Shak or band funds and no longer have the rights and privileges afforded band members.
The band can appeal the sanctions to Provost John Etchemendy; members have until Jan. 23 to do so.
VIDEO: Watch a "First Person" video interview with the Stanford Tree from 2012, hosted by Lisa Van Dusen.