Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another School Has Disbanded Their Band

I first read about this in a column by Selena Roberts in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated; it's a story that's becoming all too familiar in recent years, and I hate to see it happen again: Florida International University has cut not only its marching band, but the cheerleading squad as well! I can't find a link for Roberts' story on the SI site, but here's something from a South Florida TV station:
What's a college football or basketball game without spirited cheerleaders and a raucous marching band? That's what plenty of people are asking themselves after Florida International University eliminated its cheerleading squad on [June 24]. The Golden Panther Marching Band was cut earlier [that] week.

The elimination of the cheerleading squad and marching band was part of a plan to cut $1 million from FIU's athletic budget for the coming year.

"It's our lifestyle, it's what we love to do, and to have it taken away from us, it's sad to our hearts," said cheerleader Jenny Mesa.

Other moves, including layoffs and other reductions, will be required as well. FIU's athletic budget was to be around $16 million.
I also found a link to last spring's impassioned plea for people to sign a petition to spare the band, but all the clamor fell on (pardoning the pun?) deaf ears.

FIU hasn't had a band all that long--just since 2002, the same year they started football. But since the school moved up to Division I-A in 2005, it appears to fancy itself a major player with the major state schools--Florida, Florida State and Miami--as its perceived rivals. (I should note that FIU plays in the same conference with my alma mater, North Texas, and, while a lot of us made fun of this school we'd never heard of--and continue to get it confused with another conference rival, Florida Atlantic--it does have to be grudgingly noted that the school has beaten UNT several times in the past few years.) The school is opening a new stadium (which I guess won't need a "band section" now), and it made waves by hiring Isiah Thomas as its basketball coach recently, but when the budget axe fell, it was the non-athletic student groups that were the first to go.

As I said, this has happened a few times before--at least once a year, to be precise. In 2007, we were talking about this situation at Duquesne University, and last year, it was Nevada. And what FIU's band had in common with the other two schools is what I consider to be a fatal flaw in its setup: The band was under the organizational and financial auspices of the athletic department, rather than the music department. The group's director, Carla Geiger, is listed as both an associate director of bands and Director of Athletic Bands, which means she probably still has a job in the music department. But according to Roberts, the band got one-fourth of its funding from the athletic department, and the athletic director's decision was evidently enough to pull the plug.

As I said in an earlier post, if I were a dean or music department chair in a similar situation, I would work to get the marching band more closely under the music department's umbrella; after all, the group has multiple functions: Spirit organization, a chance for non-music majors to continue with music at the college level, and a important lab for music education majors. (The group's drum major was quoted as being a music-ed major; how will he and his fellow students gain the experience that they will need for something that they're bound to encounter while teaching?) If nothing else, it might be best for a school to fund the band the way we did at UNT--through something called student service fees, which every student paid along with tuition every semester. The different groups--besides the band, other groups seeking funds included athletics, the student health center, KNTU, the newspaper, etc.--made their presentations each year for a particular piece of the pie, and a committee voted on the final funding for each of them.

So what will a Division I school be like without a band? (This is unprecedented in the modern era, so we really don't know.) One FIU athletic official envisions music being piped in, such as "rap and hip-hop...without the dirty lyrics" (which doesn't give them much of a choice. And it sure seems like a lame homecoming parade without a band. Will they regret this decision? One would certainly think so...

This will never happen (because of the distance involved, if nothing else). but it's an intriguing idea: Suppose my alma mater, UNT, which plays at FIU in November, decided to take its annual out-of-town trip to that game? It would certainly be embarrassing to the host school to have a visiting band during halftime without one of their own to follow it. But maybe it would remind them of what they just cast aside.

I hope I don't have to write Post #4 on this subject next year. (If Roberts' column ever goes up on the Web, I'll link to it here. And mad props to her for noting that she, like yours truly, marched with a baritone sax in high school.)

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