The California Aggie Marching Band-uh! is on the defensive after details of a complaint filed by its faculty director were leaked to the media Monday.
The Band-uh!’s faculty director, Thomas Slabaugh II, filed a sexual harassment complaint with the university in May after a series of “ridiculous, disturbing, and offensive” incidents, he wrote in a complaint published by The San Francisco Chronicle. Slabaugh, who is pursuing a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Washington, is on stress-leave from September through Nov. 8.
“Never an ideal situation”
Public urination, removal of clothing, destruction of university property and “sexualized” messages directed at the director are among the incidents cited in the complaint, The Chronicle reported.
Slabaugh’s attorney, Chad Carlock, said that while he believes all of the culpable parties were referred to Students Judicial Affairs, the Band-uh! director was left in the dark.
“I don’t know what SJA did with any of [the incidents],” Carlock said. “That’s partly why, in my view, things need to be more streamlined. It makes more sense for discipline to be internal.”
According to the organization’s constitution, the Band-uh!’s officers have the sole authority to expel unruly members. Carlock said he believes such a system has an inherent conflict of interest and the director should have ultimate authority.
While the Band-uh! is infamous for its quirky, offbeat style – “fast, furious, and foaming at the mouth, bold, blue and bitchin'” is a common introduction at UC Davis home games – Carlock said there needs to be a line between a “culture of free-spiritedness and violation of university policy.”
Members of the Band-uh! were privately stunned and upset by the allegations in The Chronicle, but publicly announced that it responds to behavior in violation of university policy in a “timely and appropriate manner.”
“The Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh is a student organization with a proud tradition of performing a broad repertoire of music, developing student leaders, fostering community spirit and supporting UC Davis,” the statement reads. “We are always concerned with representing ourselves in a responsible and professional manner.”
The Band-uh! was without a faculty director for four years prior to hiring Slabaugh last year.
Without the guidance of a faculty director, the “culture continued on its own,” Carlock said. While the relationship between the Band-uh! and Slabaugh was never harmonious, Carlock said it’s “unfair to say that there weren’t conflicts with prior directors.”
The university told Slabaugh there were “concerns” about ongoing behavioral problems in the band, which he interpreted as a go-ahead to “minimize incidents and deal with them as they arose,” Carlock said.
Slabaugh understood the culture of the Band-uh! prior to accepting the position, as his wife was a member in the 1980s. However, he did not understand the “severity of particular instances,” Carlock said.
When the trombone section sent a lewd Christmas card to Slabaugh’s home – “I saw you masturbating,” the note read – Carlock said the director was especially upset because “his family members were targeted.”
Though the Christmas cards went out to the entire Band-uh!, such messages sent to the director are “inappropriate and unacceptable,” his attorney said.
However, there was no single incident that was the last straw for Slabaugh, Carlock said. He said the situation was “probably never ideal” and “in some cases, escalated.” As a result, Slabaugh decided to file a complaint, he said.
“Emphasis on student leadership”
Janet Gong, the associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said she could not comment directly on the complaint due to privacy laws. However, she noted that all student organizations are expected to comply with both UC-wide and UC Davis-specific codes of conduct.
But student-led organizations – such as the Band-uh! – have more “flexibility and responsibility,” she said.
“In the band and in all student organizations, there is a significant emphasis on student leadership and development and that is very important to students to be able to have the abilities to learn and grow as leaders and peers,” she said.
Gong said the role of the Band-uh! director is to “work with student leaders to help support their efforts, to provide advice and council about music and choreography, to provide coordination with other departments on campus and to ensure the band is operating with good and appropriate actions.”
The individual Band-uh! members testified to the good intentions and welcoming atmosphere of the organization.
Beth Sekishiro, a junior English major and clarinet player in the Band-uh!, described the group as “kid-friendly.”
“The Davis community loves Band-Uh!,” she said. “When parents find out that we’ll be playing at a festival or at the farmers market, they bring their kids to see us. We’re asked to play at children’s birthday parties, preschools, elementary schools.”
Sean Morrow, a senior biochemistry major who is in his fifth year in the band, said his experience “has been one of the most positive” aspects of his time at UC Davis.
“You won’t find another organization on campus whose members are more loyal and dedicated to the university than the band, and we have an absolute blast at the same time,” he said.
Morrow said incidents that would be considered sexual harassment in an office environment, such as people removing their shirts, are in his opinion “entirely appropriate on the practice field.” No one was obligated to participate in every Band-uh! exploit, he said.
“It was made abundantly clear to me from the day I joined that I was under no obligation to participate in anything I didn’t want to and that if at any point I was not having a great time, I was encouraged to speak with an officer or section leader who could rectify the situation,” he said.
The Band-uh!, founded as “The Cal Aggie Band” in 1929, has been a university institution for 79 years and currently has 230 members.
Determining “the appropriate response”
Despite the public escalation of his dispute with the university, Slabaugh hopes to return to his job as director, Carlock said.
However, if his complaint is not addressed, Carlock said he will “have to decide what the appropriate response is.”
“At this point, I wouldn’t rule anything out. We’re still hoping to work with the university and with the band,” said Carlock who is currently trying to organize a meeting with university officials.
Meanwhile, Gong said the university recognizes the role of the Band-uh! in fostering Aggie spirit and ensures it fosters “positive, respectful and appropriate conduct.”
“The band, like many of our student groups, makes significant contributions to support the university,” she said. “By and large, over the years, they have done so with great commitment.”
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.