The UC Davis Marching Band-uh! made national headlines last week when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that faculty band director Tom Slabaugh filed a sexual harassment complaint with the university chronicling a series of “ridiculous, disturbing and offensive“ incidents he witnessed during his year as director.
The Chronicle, which focused more on the juicy details of Slabaugh‘s memo than balanced reporting, details the incidents of public urination, removal of clothing and “sexualized“ comments that led the director to call the band a “hostile work environment.“
It should come as no surprise to anyone that off the field, the student-run organization is on the raunchy side. This is a common trait in university marching bands nationwide and something that was well known about the Band-uh! before Mr. Slabaugh took the band director position.
Slabaugh‘s lawyer, Chad Carlock, told The California Aggie the university expressed “concerns“ about the group‘s behavior upon offering Slabaugh the job. He interpreted this as a green light to “minimize incidents and deal with them as they arose,“ Carlock said.
Historically the band director position has been strictly advisory and does not have jurisdiction over dismissing members – something of which Slabaugh would have been well aware when accepting the job.
Student-run organizations like Band-uh! should be just that: student-run. It‘s that autonomy, responsibility and ultimate accountability that separates college student organizations from high school clubs. If student groups are forced to obey a faculty advisor, they cease to be student groups. Faculty advisers should work with students, not against them.
The offenses outlined in the Chronicle article must also be taken in context. While they would be inappropriate in an office setting, they are permissible in the context of the free-natured, informal Band-uh! culture.
What is inappropriate, however, is bringing that culture to the home of the band director. While the Christmas card with Santa Claus saying “I saw you masturbating“ was sent to all band members and not directly targeted at Slabaugh, it should not have been mailed to his home where his children could read it. That kind of joke is fine on the practice field and in the rehearsal room, but out of basic decency and common courtesy it should be kept away from children.
A great deal of the Band-uh!‘s charm stems from its free-spirited individuality. Introduced at every home game as “fast, furious and foaming at the mouth … bold, blue and bitchin‘,“ the group fires up a streak of school spirit and Aggie pride in students, which the university should think twice about dampening by reining in the band.
Members of The California Aggie editorial board directly involved with Band-uh! recused themselves from this editorial.