Former band director’s theft a good deed gone wrong

Students here at the University are told that if there is something they want changed at this college, then they must take it upon themselves to change it. Whether that is running for the Illinois Student Senate or organizing a peaceful demonstration, students have many avenues for change. However, has anyone really given any thought to how professors can change university policies when they are told not to? Recently, former University of Illinois Director of Bands Dr. Robert Rumbelow was accused of selling over $55,000 worth of the University’s old instruments and pocketing the proceeds from the sale. He has since resigned and paid $86,000 back to the University. Dr. Linda Moorhouse has taken over as acting Director of Bands. University Police also reported “suspicious charges” on his University-issued “P-card” — basically a credit card that professors may use for “University-authorized small dollar purchases,” that are tracked by the University.

Rumbelow claims the reason why he sold these instruments was to help finance a feasibility study for a new band building. The current building, the Harding Band Building, is in need of a renovation, especially if the University would like to recruit the top music players from across the nation. Logically, I would think the sale of old instruments would lead to the purchase of new, improved instruments for the band department. A band director wouldn’t get rid of instruments that would benefit his or her ensembles because that would be counterproductive in regards to recruiting top-tier music students — something he was assigned to do upon his employment. The problem was simply where he was allocating the funds, which was his personal bank account.

Back when Rumbelow was hired in 2010, he was given two major tasks. The first was to update the University’s collection of instruments, and the second was to update the old Harding Band Building. A man tasked with a problem, armed with a solution, but in the end, punished for the unconventional way he approached it.

For any kind of construction project there is always one major factor to consider, which usually sidelines most ideas before they are even brought up: money. And there does not seem to be much of it hanging around the cornfields of Illinois these days. Illinois’ ability to adequately fund its public universities, as well as many other programs in the state, has been seriously stifled by the burgeoning pressure of ever-expanding pension costs and seemingly insurmountable budget deficits. While this seems more like an economics lecture on the failure of Illinois budget policymakers, it still all ties back to Rumbelow and his quest for a new band building.

Less funding for the state’s universities means that the University of Illinois must be even pickier in regards to what construction projects it pursues in the coming fiscal years.

Every year, the University puts out a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and in it they explain how the University’s funding is being spent and how it will benefit from these expenditures. In the section titled “Address Facility Operations Needs” of the Budget Book for the 2014 Fiscal Year, the University talks about the importance of keeping the University’s facilities up to date in hopes of attracting the best students and the best professors. One of the new buildings they include is a state-of-the-art crop sciences research facility. Not to say that this is not a necessary addition, but where is Rumbelow’s new band building? Well, it is nowhere to be found in the renovations section of the FY2014 Budget Book.

Professors are obligated to their department heads and their students to follow the rules, but Rumbelow’s actions would have resulted in better facilities for the students and a better recruitment tool for the department heads. Rumbelow was tasked with the impossible job of improving both the stock of instruments here at the University as well as renovating the band’s facilities with, assuming from his course of action, insufficient funds. What was he supposed to do? Start a different project, or just plainly ignore what he was hired to do? Both ways, he would not be doing what he was told to do.

Take a child who asks his parents for a new yacht. There would be no way that the parents would give into the ridiculous request (unless their names are Bill and Melinda Gates), the reason being that the child is most likely too young for a boater’s license and a yacht is way too expensive for the parents to buy. This is why you don’t have children running up to their parents every day asking for yachts. It is because they know they are too expensive and the request will be immediately denied.

Maybe Rumbelow looked at the fiscal situation he was facing and realized the same thing as the child did: It’s too expensive, so why even ask? If Rumbelow is true to his word, then his actions, however suspicious, can be justified in the sense that they would ultimately help both the University and its students.

Max is a freshman in DGS. He can be reached at [email protected]