The Columbia University Marching Band, which dated to 1904, had developed a wide reputation over the years for its irreverent, quirky performances at Lions football and basketball games.
It had served as the irrepressible court jester to the university’s staid administration, and, at times, had offended students and the wider campus community with its jokes.
The band had an antagonistic relationship with the administration, which banned it from football games last year and tried to stamp out its mischievous tradition of bursting into a campus library each semester to entertain stressed-out students on the eve of finals.
But the latest news from the band was more startling. Its board announced on Monday that after 116 years of performing it was disbanding, citing “a history riddled with offensive behavior.”
The behavior did not pertain to its ongoing lampooning of university policies and officials but more serious self-levied charges — posted in a statement on the band’s Facebook page — that the band had long been rife with “sexual misconduct, assault, theft, racism and injury to individuals and the Columbia community as a whole.”
The decision highlights the intense atmosphere on college campuses across the country as students scrutinize behavior and incidents that might have attracted less attention in the past. But it also touched off a backlash from alumni of the marching band, who disputed claims that it engaged in actions that were offensive to people of color or women.
In a statement, Columbia University officials said, “We respect efforts of the band’s student leadership to address in a serious manner recent reports of offensive and unacceptable conduct entirely at odds with the values of our university.”
The band’s statement did not provide any details of specific episodes. Instead, it described a virtual meeting held on Saturday among more than 20 band members “to discuss numerous anonymous postings and allegations of” misconduct.
After that discussion, the band decided “unanimously and enthusiastically” to dissolve itself, the statement said.
“The Columbia University Marching Band apologizes for insult and injury victims have experienced as a result of actions perpetrated in its name,’’ the band’s statement said.
Its announcement, first reported by the Columbia Daily Spectator, came after numerous postings on a Facebook page called Columbia Confessions, which included a range of complaints and accusations, including band members using a Native American war cry at a game, personal accounts from former band members of lewd behavior, binge drinking and sexual harassment at band gatherings and parties and sex involving band members who were too drunk to give their consent.
On Tuesday, more than half a dozen current and recent band members either refused to comment or did not respond to messages.
But the Columbia University Band Alumni Association, made up of former band members, said in a statement that they “categorically reject the characterization of the band’s history made by the members who voted to dissolve the group.”
The association’s president, Samantha Rowan, said the band had “never been a racist or sexist organization, nor has it promoted racism, nor has it fostered sexual harassment, misogyny or cultural oppression.”
The band was “that rare place at Columbia with no barriers to entry — not school affiliation; not race, gender or sexual orientation; not money,” she wrote.
The band, which billed itself as “The Cleverest Band in the World,” claimed to be the nation’s first college “scramble” or non-marching band, and appeared on numerous television talk shows and in feature films.
The complaints, couched as a long overdue institutional confession, seemed to portray a group engaged in indefensible behavior rather than a nerdy ragtag marching band that gleefully retooled Katy Perry songs for its eclectic instrumentation, and taunted opposing teams that they did not know who Plato was.
The band’s board said the band had “maintained a club structure founded on the basis of racism, cultural oppression, misogyny and sexual harassment.”
In its decision to disband, it cited “the injury it has caused to our members and the broader Columbia community.”
The band said that while it has “some tolerance for off-pitch music and corny jokes, we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault” and “do not tolerate any racist, sexist, transphobic or otherwise harmful behavior.”
In a follow-up statement on Monday, the band’s board said that it hoped its dissolution would provide “time to heal from the decades of harm caused by this organization” and to “create a space that allows for the formation of a new spirit group that will provide a safe and inclusive outlet for students to play music at Columbia.”