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Stanford Band becomes department-sponsored student organization

Pilot program houses Band under athletic department instead of Student Affairs

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The Stanford Band is piloting a new model for student organizations on campus. 

Effective Jan. 1, the Band — formally known as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) — is officially housed under the University’s athletics department, not the Office of Student Affairs. 

Although the new designation won’t change the experience for audiences or most student Band members, the two-year pilot program means big changes behind the scenes for one of Stanford’s largest student organizations.

“We are shifting from being a group that is directly tied to and supervised by Student Affairs and OSE [the Office of Student Engagement] and loosely connected to Athletics … [to] a direct, close relationship with the athletics department, and a more dotted-line relationship with Student Affairs and OSE,” said Band manager Caroline Bamberger ’20. 

The switch comes as OSE, which used to oversee Band and still oversees all other registered Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs), is undergoing its own changes amid a rebranding. It replaced the Office of Student Activities and Leadership.

While the Band’s choice to move away from OSE wasn’t the result of any conflict with the office, the restructuring at OSE played a part in the decision.

“We decided to be proactive in this because we knew that change was coming anyway, and we had the opportunity, given that change was already on its way, to sit down and think about what would be the ideal situation for us,” Bamberger said.

As a student organization whose membership can fluctuate from 50 to 200 students over the course of a football season — and whose purpose has always been outward-facing rather than inward-facing — the Band had never fit into the model of a VSO under Student Affairs, Bamberger added. 

The Band has also struggled with the limited support possible from Student Affairs. From 2007 until 2017, a department employee’s primary job was Band support, but that person has since changed departments, according to Band director Russ Gavin. Now, many of the non-student support personnel for the Band, including Gavin, are already employed by or coordinated through Stanford Athletics. 

The pilot program is designed to formalize that relationship. 

“This probably should have been the way it was for a long time now,” Gavin said. “The facility that the Band occupies is owned by Athletics. The support personnel currently engaging the Band … go through Athletics. I am an employee of Stanford Athletics … All of the support mechanisms are currently in Athletics. The idea that we would have that elevated level of connectivity is largely motivated by that.”

Bamberger and Gavin emphasized that the decision, which grew out of conversations starting last summer with Student Affairs and Stanford Athletics, was driven by students. Though Gavin serves as Band director — and the Band is soon to hire a professional music educator — it is run by a 40-member student staff, led by the manager, assistant manager and drum major. The Band will remain student-run during the transition and throughout the pilot program.

Another major change is the creation of a Student Band Advisory Committee, a group that will provide guidance and oversight to the Band and serve as the liaisons between the Band and the University.

The five-to-seven person committee will include representatives from Stanford Athletics, the Office of Student Affairs and the Band’s alumni board. The Band also intends to include a student chosen through the Associated Students of Stanford University’s (ASSU) Nominations Commission. 

The advisory committee will be involved with the disciplinary process for students who violate University policy while acting as members of the Band, though the details of how that process will work are still to be ironed out. 

Under the pilot program, Bamberger said, disciplinary cases will go first through the advisory committee to see if the actions in question are indicative of the organization as a whole or of individual students. 

“Having an advisory committee gives us a way to treat individuals as individuals, instead of as organizational problems,” Bamberger added.

In the past, the Band has had a checkered relationship with the University. Organizational Conduct Board and Title IX investigations of alleged hazing, sexual harassment and alcohol-abuse policy violations resulted in the Band’s suspension in December 2016, which was lifted the following month. 

With the pilot program, Bamberger said, the Band is working to “rewrite the narrative that [they] are troublemakers, that [they] are bad in some way.”

“I’m really excited for the fact that this is happening, because I think it represents the culmination of a lot of positive growth that has happened the last few years and the start of a new chapter that I’m really excited to get to kick off,” Bamberger added.

Some details of the pilot program are still to be ironed out. One question that remains is funding: As a VSO, the Band received $97,930 in annual-grant funds from the ASSU. Undergraduate Senator Tim Vrakas ’21, the chair of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, said he is in support of continuing to fund the Band, but doesn’t know what steps would need to be taken to make that happen. 

“It’s my opinion that if the Band continues to operate in the same way, in the spirit of a student club, then they ought to have the option of ASSU support,” Vrakas said. 

Additionally, it’s not yet clear how the pilot program could affect other VSOs who would also like to become a department-sponsored student organization, said University spokesperson Pat Harris. A working group on VSOs is due to release its report later this quarter.

But Bamberger hopes that the Band’s pilot could serve as a model for other groups.

“This might help other groups in similar spots who are similarly unique,” Bamberger said, adding, “We really pride ourselves on trying to be the model student organization.”

Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Erin Woo '21 is a senior staff writer. She was previously managing editor of news during Vol. 254 and 255, and she has also reported for The Mercury News and WNYC. Contact her at erinkwoo 'at' stanford.edu.