Stanford Band Suspension: Not an Arbitrary Act of Tyranny

Stanford Band Suspension: Not an Arbitrary Act of Tyranny

Don’t let our enthusiasm for Band and suspicion of the administration prevent us from thinking impartially about Band’s suspension.

On December 9, Vice Provost Greg Boardman announced in a letter that Band would be suspended until the end of the 2016-17 academic year. In response, the student body has united in condemning the decision and defending Band. Countless editorials have been published exalting Band and criticizing the administration; hundreds of students attended a rally in defense of Band during finals week; and The Fountain Hopper, an anonymous Stanford publication, sent an email asking the entire student body to fight back against the Stanford administrators by flooding them with legal requests for student information.

Students and administrators alike express pride in Band’s irreverence and exuberance; these qualities reflect an important part of Stanford’s spirit. However, Band is a good representative of Stanford only insofar as it embodies other core Stanford values such as respect and inclusion. Band’s irreverence doesn’t mean it has free license to violate any rule with impunity. Every registered student organization is responsible for adhering to university policies and regulations designed to ensure students’ well-being. Band is no exception.

The administration’s decision to suspend Band was neither arbitrary nor capricious but a measured response to Band’s unacceptable conduct over the past few years. In 2015, Stanford’s Organization Conduct Board (OCB) and Title IX Office held a joint investigation of the group in response to repeated student complaints about hazing, sexual harassment, and substance abuse. Panels composed of students, faculty, and staff members from across the Stanford community questioned witnesses and concluded that “on several occasions, the band violated university policies regarding alcohol, controlled substances, hazing and/or sexual harassment.” Violations cited include giving members alcoholic concoctions that made them vomit in public, forcing individuals to answer “a number of inappropriate questions on sexual matters” as part of Band’s selection process, and using illegal substances on a retreat.

Instead of suspending Band in 2015, Stanford gave it a chance to change its behavior and organizational practices. The university placed a travel and alcohol ban on Band for the 2015-16 school year, hoping that this probation would prompt Band to “[strengthen] its culture” and “[ensure] good stewardship in the years ahead.”

Unfortunately, it did not. In 2016, the OCB received reports from Band members that Band had not only violated its probation on multiple fronts but also contravened other university policies. In accordance with university protocol, the OCB launched four separate investigations into Band. It found that Band violated both its alcohol ban and travel ban on multiple occasions, including drinking at Tree Rollouts and using Band funds to travel to Lake Tahoe.

These activities would not be problematic under normal circumstances. But the alcohol and travel bans were meant to give Band a chance to demonstrate that it  could reform themselves. By violating both, it proved the contrary. The university has every right to punish Band for it.

In response, the OCB panelists recommended “suspension and loss of recognition as a registered student organization through the end of the academic year 2017-18.” The Vice Provost’s office, however, decided only to suspend Band until the end of Spring Quarter 2017. Despite widespread complaints of the suspension being unfairly harsh, shortening Band’s punishment by a full year is, in fact, extraordinarily lenient. Administering any milder punishment would have been irresponsible in light of the student complaints and OCB investigations. Moreover, considering students’ outrage about the university’s inadequate handling of sexual assault cases, it seems inconsistent to condemn the administration for leaning toward the side of caution in addressing sexual harassment charges simply because Band is involved.

The administration’s suspension of Band was not a groundless political attack. After months of reviewing evidence from witnesses, multiple panels of students, faculty, and staff members from across the Stanford community concluded that Band suffers from “a total lack of accountability and responsibility,” and that “the current leadership or membership is [not] capable of creating the necessary cultural change.”

These investigations were initiated by Stanford students who were so strongly victimized by Band’s cultural problems that they felt compelled to file complaints to the university. These were Band members who identified toxic, systemic problems with the organization’s culture. Unsurprisingly, not a single one has publicly voiced any degree of criticism of Band in the days since its suspension was announced. When the student body is united in glorifying Band, it’s understandably difficult for anyone to express a dissenting opinion; any new perspective we hear only strengthens the pro-Band echo chamber that we’ve created on campus. By encouraging such a vigorous backlash against administrators and student outpouring of support of Band, we do the campus a disservice by silencing voices who could speak to Band’s systemic problems and catalyze helpful shifts in Band culture going forward.

It’s possible to love Band while still acknowledging that there is much it can do to reflect Stanford’s values better. We cannot let our enthusiasm for Band and suspicion of the administration prevent us from thinking impartially about the decision. This article urges Stanford students to understand the circumstances surrounding the decision rather than jumping to conclusions based on a few Facebook statuses.

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