Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh in the middle of another sexual harassment complaint.
Director files complaint about UC Davis band
When he was hired as director of the loud, rowdy Cal Aggie Marching Band at UC Davis, nobody told Tom Slabaugh about the tradition of "naked van." But on last year's road trip to the football game with Portland State, a trumpet player yelled "naked van!" and everybody in the vehicle - men and women alike - stripped to their underwear.
Slabaugh ordered band members to put their clothes back on, but they ignored him, he said in a memo to university officials.
Meanwhile, a sousaphone player and a clarinetist wrote "I (heart) BOOBS" in masking tape on the van's window, causing a motorist who saw the van on I-5 in Oregon to complain to the university.
The naked van episode was one in a series of "ridiculous, disturbing and offensive" incidents, some of them alcohol-fueled, that Slabaugh says he witnessed in his year with the Cal Aggies, according to a copy of his memo obtained by The Chronicle.
On the band's fall retreat in 2007, four drunken band members were caught urinating in a dormitory elevator, and at band picnic day, four others took their uniform pants down and simulated the incident for a photographer. At outdoor rehearsals, male band members dropped their pants to get a laugh, while women sometimes stripped to their bras, he wrote, and one evening practice was disrupted when a bass drummer began performing lap dances.
'Sexualized' commentsDrunken hazing of band members also occurred, he said, and posters tacked to the walls of the rehearsal room were defaced with crude and "sexualized" comments.
When Slabaugh tried to get the band to behave, he said he faced a barrage of obscene insults and gestures - even a lewd Christmas card from the trombone section.
Frustrated because he didn't have the power to expel out-of-control musicians from the student-run band, Slabaugh took the unusual step of filing a sexual harassment complaint with the university in May.
The Cal Aggie band is a "hostile work environment," he wrote.
Members of the band's leadership council declined to be interviewed for this story.
"I'm not really willing to talk about anything anyone has done," one said.
Meanwhile, Slabaugh is on stress leave and unavailable for comment, said his lawyer, Chad Carlock.
When Slabaugh was hired, he knew there were "issues" with the band, the lawyer said, but he believed the university would give him the power to clean the problems up.
"We're still hopeful that's the case," the lawyer said. "I'd like to get him back to work."
'Over the cliff'Through the years, marching bands at many colleges have gotten in trouble for wild behavior - Stanford's band, for example, has repeatedly been suspended. But what's going on at UC Davis may be uniquely problematic, said Wayne Erickson, western division president for the College Band Directors National Association.
"I've never heard of it getting to that point," said Erickson, who is also band director at Utah Valley State College. "It sounds like they've driven in the ditch and over the cliff."
In response to Slabaugh's complaints, Lisa Brodkey, a university sexual harassment officer, gave sexual harassment training to the band, she said in an Aug. 12 letter. Brodkey also did a walk-through of the band room and ordered offensive "signs, pictures, condoms, etc." removed from the walls, she wrote. UC Davis was considering whether to give Slabaugh the power to expel unruly band members, she wrote.
Band in trouble beforeVice Chancellor Janet Gong declined to comment on the band director's complaint or the band's behavior, saying she was prohibited by privacy laws.
Slabaugh, 44, is a veteran band director and music educator who is completing a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Washington.
In 2007, he was hired to teach in the UC Davis music department as well as to direct the Cal Aggie band, which prides itself on loud music and exuberant behavior. The band's 2002 CD was titled "Noise Violation." At performances, the public-address announcer introduces the ensemble as: "Fast, furious and foaming at the mouth ... bold, blue and bitchin' ... the pride of the Regents of the University of California ... the spirit of the Davis campus."
The band also has been in trouble before. In 1992, after a woman accused the student band leader of sexual harassment, the university put the band on probation and ordered reforms, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Run by studentsNevertheless, the band remains a student-run organization with almost all activities - including even conducting rehearsals - the responsibility of a council of 12 band members, according to the band's Web site. When Slabaugh arrived, the band hadn't had a faculty director in four years.
From the start, Slabaugh found rehearsals disrupted by "impolite talking, inappropriate and obscene gestures, dropping of pants and women removing their shirts," he wrote. He said he couldn't get the band to shape up because students ignored his admonitions.
Problems with horn sectionThat left him the choice of turning his back on outrageous behavior or reporting it to the administration. When he reported bad conduct, he said the university wouldn't back him up, and the band got mad at him.
For example, in April, while marching to practice, a trumpeter deliberately broke a wooden security gate on the street near the Plant Sciences Building, and Slabaugh called the campus police, according to the memo.
But no arrest was made, and the incident angered another trumpeter, who later made obscene hand gestures at Slabaugh during practice and rammed his shoulder into the band director when they met in a hallway, the memo states.
'We are adults'On another occasion, Slabaugh said he found a bass drummer drinking beer in the drum room and urged the band council to punish her. After she was suspended for two weeks, her friends blamed Slabaugh.
"We are adults and you need to respect that," a trumpeter e-mailed him. "You owe the band an apology for your attitude since the beginning of your employment here."
The band's rudeness took other forms. When Slabaugh brought his 9-year-old daughter into the band room to sell Girl Scout cookies, someone had written "F- Slabaugh" on the whiteboard. The director wrote that he didn't bring his family around after that.
Lewd Christmas cardAt Christmas, he received a card signed by trombone players with a picture of Santa Claus. "I saw you masturbating," the message read.
In his memo, and in meetings, Slabaugh urged UC Davis to give him the power to remove bad actors from the band. In her August letter, the sexual harassment officer agreed that "this is a critical area to be resolved," but nothing was done. The band director went on leave in September.
Attached to Slabaugh's memo were photos of the band from picnic day in April. They included the shot of the four musicians pretending to urinate; a photo of band members with their uniform pants down; and another photo that he said showed the equipment manager "simulating oral copulation" on a trombone player. The photos were for sale on the Internet, he wrote, although recently some have been taken down.
College bands that marched into troubleOver the years, college marching bands have been disciplined because of problematic behavior. Here, from Chronicle reports and published accounts, is a roundup:
-- Suspended for trashing the Band Shak rehearsal trailer, 2006.
-- Student "Tree" mascot suspended for performing while drunk, 2006; replacement "Tree" mascot ejected from women's basketball tournament for dancing in undesignated area.
-- Banned from University of Notre Dame for routine in which conductor, dressed as nun, used crucifix as baton, 1991.
-- Suspended for "mooning" fans, 1986.
UC Davis: Probation after student director was accused of sexual harassment, 1992.
Texas Tech: Suspensions for 19 members who attacked mascot "Rex L. the Bat" during University of Texas game, 1995.
Texas Southern University: Suspensions for 12 members and probation for 17 others for shoplifting on trip to Coca-Cola Bowl in Japan, 1993.
Prairie View A&M, Texas, and Southern University, Louisiana: Suspended for halftime brawl in which Prairie View's sousaphones were damaged in the amount of $20,000, 1998.
Southern University, Louisiana: Probation after a freshman band member's knee was injured during hazing, 2001.
University of Wisconsin: Suspended Friday for hazing, alcohol consumption and "inappropriate sexual behavior." Probation for "seminude dancing," head-shaving and hazing during Michigan road trip, 2006.
Alabama A&M University: Probation after eight female musicians said they were blindfolded and paddled in a hazing ritual, 2005.
Jackson State University, Mississippi: Probation for forcing musicians who played their parts incorrectly to do push-ups, 2007.
Florida State University: Probation for forcing new band members to drink alcohol while blindfolded, 1994.
Florida A&M: Probation for 74 members who stole items from a hotel in Detroit, 2006.
University of Virginia: Pep band disbanded after a halftime skit mocking the University of West Virginia as hillbillies, 2002.
Yale University: Suspensions for four band members who dropped trousers at halftime, 1985.
My other comment. When calling the University Cops on a student for breaking the security gate, the director was being a gratitious asshole. I broke one at least once a month after I joined Unitrans. Those stupid gates were/are a pain. There's a reason why they kept a stack of them on hand for quick replacement.