Columbia Reinstates Marching Band in Time for Homecoming

The Columbia University Marching Band, which the school had banned last month from performing at football games this season, was reinstated Friday after a flood of criticism from alumni band members.

The decision, after nearly two weeks of negotiations, will allow the band to bring their instruments to the university’s homecoming game against Penn on Saturday afternoon, though it will not be able to perform on the field because there was not enough time to prepare.

“Up until yesterday I didn’t think we were playing at homecoming and now we are,” said Cameron Danesh-Pajou, a senior chemical engineering student who is the band’s director.

The accord largely gave the university what it wanted — greater control of the band, whose irreverence has not always been taken in good humor by the administration. The band will be under the purview of the athletic department when it performs at sporting events, allowing athletic administrators to review scripts, and all band members will be required to sign a code of conduct agreement. At other school events, the band will be supervised by Columbia College.

The rules are similar to guidelines for the cheerleaders, mascot and dance team.

“From our end, the most important goal is to get the band playing as soon as possible,” said Samantha Rowan, the director of the band’s alumni group, which has about 970 members, many of whom reached out to university President Lee Bollinger. “What’s the point of a band if there’s no place left to play?”

The band had been practicing in recent weeks and had been performing on Saturdays before games on the steps of the Butler Library on the main quad at the Morningside Heights campus. The band then traveled to home games, but was prohibited from bringing instruments to Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at the northern tip of Manhattan.

About 80 alumni are expected to join the approximately 50-member band Saturday in front of a large homecoming crowd.

The band is hoping to perform on the field for Columbia’s final two games next month against Harvard and Brown.

Left unresolved, though, is whether the band will be permitted to perform at Orgo Night, a tradition dating back to the 1970s when the band bursts into Butler Library at 11:59 p.m. on the eve of the organic chemistry final — supposedly the most difficult exam at the school — to play music and perform a sometimes cheeky, sometimes pointed skit.

The administration cracked down on band after its skit four years ago sharply criticized the school’s handling of sexual assault claims.

The band, which was told it could only perform Orgo Night outside the library, sneaked instruments in the following year and the administration responded last October by slashing the band’s funding by 60 percent. The band’s alumni pledged to contribute about $10,000 to help the band get through this year, but several days before the Columbia football team’s first home game, Danesh-Pajou was told by athletic director Peter Pilling that they would be banned from playing this season.

The school said it was because the band had missed a March deadline to file for recognition. Pilling said in an email on Friday night that the athletic department was pleased to have reached an agreement with the band.

“We’re excited and really optimistic, but we’re still reconciling our place in the wide world of Columbia,” said Matthew Coulson, the band’s spirit manager. “We’re hoping to stay true to the identity of the band we’ve formed, but we also understand the need to play ball with athletics to exist.”

And maybe athletics needed to play ball, too.

Since the ban went into effect, Columbia played three games with its band sitting silenced in the stands. The Lions lost them all.