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Historicizing

“Your band stinks”

There’s a recent article in California Magazine making its way around my newsfeed this week. “Pied Paupers?” looks at the budget situation with the University of California Marching Band. (TL;DR: the university doesn’t give them much.) This article is reminiscent of “Spirit on a Shoestring,” an article California Magazine ran in 2011 also describing the budget situation of the University of California Marching Band. (TL;DR: the university doesn’t give them much.) One key difference is that the updated one is quite a bit more optimistic, helped in good part by the recent matching fund put forward by the University that will match every dollar up to $50k from new donors. (Are YOU a new donor? Go donate!)

Both articles briefly delve into the historical context for the budget shortfalls. “Pied Paupers” looks at the recent history, tying current budget woes to cuts in 2008 and the economic downturn (thanks George W.) while “Spirit on a Shoestring” looks briefly back to the 1960s. For this Throwback Thursday, I want to look at another time when Cal Band funding was a hot topic – but instead of urging larger budgets, the papers were calling for funding freezes.

(The following is a mixture of new content and adapted pieces from my paper about Cal Band and Title IX. Apologies if some of my footnotes are a bit off – I was moving things around.)

“Your Band Stinks”

In the early 1970s, the campus considered the Cal Band neither popular nor relevant. In February 1973, the school newspaper, The Daily Californian, attacked the Cal Band with vehemence:

“There’s at least one good thing about the home basketball season being over. The season of the Straw Hat Band is done as well. We no longer have to listen to or watch them, the pom-pom girls, or the California Rally Committee… A rival head basketball coach once told a Daily Cal sports writer, “Your band stinks.” We cannot disagree”[i]

The article goes on to criticize:

  • The Band’s cheers (“belching, insults” “Sit down coach!”, “You’re our tuna for tonight!”)
  • The pom-pom girls (“out-of-step, awkward, almost ungainly)
  • The mic men (“honest enough to realize they were ineffective and have quit)
  • Rally Comm (“a curious appendage at the side of the band… and anachronism in any age… it is difficult to imagine any time when the group performed a service to anyone”)

Oh, and by the way, they all cost money.

“We call on the ASUC to cease funding these organizations until such time as they conform to current standards of fair employment and good taste. It’s the least we can expect for our money”

Of course, at this time, the Cal Band did not receive any ASUC money, due to a budget freeze.

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“More Pro-University.” 

Until the 1960s, most funding for the Band came from the ASUC. The current Band, after all, began as the ASUC Band. But as the 1960s commenced, the priorities of the Associated Students changed. Inspired by As the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam Protests, it began to focus to concentrate on political issues. Funding for the band decreased substantially toward the end of the 1960s: the Cabala (the “somewhat unofficial newsletter of the Cal Band”) reported in October 1967 that the ASUC had cut 62% of the band’s budget. That money was reportedly diverted to community projects in Oakland and to buy a new printing press for the Daily Californian.[iii]

The country in the midst of the Vietnam War, and any group with military connections was stigmatized on the liberal UC Berkeley campus. The band grew out of the ROTC, wore military-style uniforms, trained with military-style calisthenics and emphasized military-style uniformity, down to barring wristwatches and facial hair. Further, at a time when the campus was politically active, the band was apolitical. The Band would also sometime march military shows near Veterans Day. The summer following the Free Speech Movement, the Band embarked on the 1965 American tour. The tour was, in part, an effort to show the world that Berkeley students weren’t all crazy radicals. As former Director James Berdahl noted in his oral history:

Well, they were more pro-University, they didn’t want to do – no matter how they might have agreed or disagreed on the political issues at the time. They were not the type of students, maybe a few, but not the type that would do anything that would tear the University down in pursuing whatever the thing was.[ii]

To observers instigating a social revolution, the Cal Band was an anachronism.

A Breaking Point

As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, this strained relationship compelled the Band to begin shifting from ASUC control to the more supportive auspices of the University. In Cal Band Alumni newsletter The North Tunnel Echo , Paul Luce, the 1972 Senior Manager, cited ASUC resolutions that would cut funding unless the Band changed its uniforms and “allow[ed] a Senate board to select its halftime music.”[iv]

One of the last tipping points with the Cal Band and the ASUC was the Band’s all-male policy. The ASUC was constantly threatening to remove funding, so it was initially unclear as to whether the ASUC would actually follow through. But on January 10, 1973, Senator-elect April Maynard led a group of 13 newly elected senators to push to end “ASUC funding of any groups which arbitrarily discriminate against any student.”[v]  Maynard said to the Daily Cal:

“We want to make it clear to band that we’re not going to let this die. There will be no one who will fund them if they don’t change”[vi]

A 20-6 vote ensured the end of ASUC funding for the Cal Band. None of the dissenters offered speeches its favor, and the organization suddenly lost a third of its $40,000 budget.[vii]

The Band turned to the University, but the implementation of Title IX prevented the University from providing an alternate source of funding, lest it risk losing its own federal dollars.  In the Daily Cal, Collette Seiple, the University’s Affirmative Action Coordinator, was reportedly certain that “there was ‘no question’ that the band’s policy was contrary to the provisions of the Higher Education Act.”[viii]

Even with the financial pressures, resistance remained to integration. There were concerns about camaraderie, women’s physical ability, and the perceived threat to the crude, “masculine” culture. They were afraid of losing the band they loved. But the financial necessity outweighed the worries, and the Band capitulated. Women became eligible for the Band, and the Band became eligible for University money.

A Legacy

Nowadays, the Cal Band is much better liked on campus, and the ASUC is decidedly less radical. The Cal Band regularly plays at ASUC-sponsored events, and former bandsmen have served in the Senate. But the Cal Band never went back to the ASUC, and this was certainly not the end of the money woes, even for the immediate decade: The Cabala in 1979 reported, “the people above took away 6% of our money instead of the usual 4%.”[ix] In 1982, the Band lost money for its Fall Training Program and annual LA trip, leading to the creation of the annual fundraising benefit.

The break from the ASUC in 1973 was certainly not the only reason the Band lacks funds, but this period of time was significant in the creation of the modern budget situation. It represents a realigning of campus culture and student priorities: the reputation UC Berkeley garnered  for political activism and radicalism became part of a pervasive campus meta-narrative that did not involve school spirit or an elevation of collegiate athletics. Many wonderful things emerged from the shift: UC Berkeley was pivotal in the changing consciousness of the country, and the student leaders continue to inspire. But in becoming “Berzerkeley,” Cal sacrificed cohesiveness of earlier tradition, and for better or for worse, the Cal Band’s budget is part of that story. [x] 

A bit different from 1973, yes?

A bit different from 1973, yes?


[i] “Spirit Groups – A Foul!” The Daily Californian [Berkeley]. 28 Feb 1973. Print.

[ii] Berdahl, James. Interviewed by Michelle Gluck. Oral History, June 14, 1986.

[iii] Cabala. (University of California, Berkeley). 19 Oct 1967. Records of the California Band.

[iv] Luce, Paul. “Manager’s Mumblings.” North Tunnel Echo. April 1973.

[v] Ross, Steve. “New Senate: ASUC May Axe Band Fundraising.” The Daily Californian[Berkeley] 10 Jan. 1973: 1. Print.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] “Marching On: ASUC to Stop Funding For All-Male Cal Band.” The Daily Californian[Berkeley] 11 Jan. 1973: 1 Print.

[viii] Ibid

[ix] “Manager’s Madness.” Calbala 1979

[x] Not to say that the Cal Band singular in its vulnerability to political winds: In 1990, Oregon’s Measure 5 – limited property taxes and capped school funding – directly impacted the Oregon State Band. OSU still received about $57k from various University sources (Athletics, Student Body, Presidential Discretionary Fund) but the program took massive hits, going from 220 members in ’88-89 to 85 members in 1995.

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