- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee has removed Gary Sousa as band director, five months after the band issued a statement saying it was in a “bitter battle” with the school’s athletic department and complaining about reduced travel and budget cuts.

In a letter sent to Sousa on Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, Tennessee provost and senior vice chancellor Susan Martin said Sousa’s own statements “demonstrate that you allowed your relationships with key university officials to deteriorate to the point that it is no longer possible for you to serve effectively as Director of Bands.”

Sousa’s removal as band director is effective March 31. Martin’s letter stated Sousa would remain a tenured professor. His salary drops from $155,000 to $105,000.

“It is my sincere hope that you find renewed energy and commitment to your field in your faculty role and that you will remain a productive and valued member of the School of Music faculty,” Martin wrote.

The school had relieved Sousa of his duties as band director on Oct. 14, a week after the band’s letter detailing its complaints came out, and had placed him on administrative leave for the rest of the fall semester. Don Ryder was named interim director of bands at that point and will continue to serve in that role. University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen said Tennessee plans to conduct a national search for the position at some point.

Sousa had been Tennessee’s band director since 1997.

In the statement released on Oct. 9, the band said it was “locked in a bitter battle” with the athletic department and complained that its travel budget had been “slashed.” The band also said it had a reduced role in home football games because of all the commercials and prerecorded music that played on the public address system. Tennessee’s athletic department released its own statement later that same day stating the band is “a much valued and integral part of the university” and that the band’s operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year was reduced by only 0.8 percent.

After the band’s statement came out, Sousa expressed support for the students’ concerns in his own comments to local news media.

In a letter to Tennessee vice provost for faculty affairs John Zomchick on Wednesday, Sousa pointed out that he consistently received favorable performance evaluations. Sousa noted his paid administrative leave marked the first time he had been formally or informally reprimanded in his 30-year career as a professor and band director.

“I have never knowingly undertaken any action adverse to the Pride of the Southland Band,” Sousa wrote. “Further, I find any characterization that I was acting selfishly to be inconsistent with the facts. I certainly did not stand to benefit financially or personally from confrontation with UT administrators or the athletic department.”

In his letter, Sousa also disputed the notion that there was open hostility or failure of communication between him and campus officials, though he acknowledged that his desire to uphold traditions and his “passion for the Pride of the Southland Band led to tensions with UT administrators, especially within the athletic department.”

“My refusal to accept the march to profits is my mistake and one for which I have paid dearly,” Sousa wrote. “I foresee that the Pride of the Southland’s role at sporting events will continue to be reduced and replaced by more commercials and canned music. However, I believe that UT owes it to the students who might consider the UT band to inform them of this changing role.”

Simsen said Tennessee “fully supports” the band.

“We want every student musician to have a great experience and enjoy being part of a wonderful and cherished tradition,” Simsen said.

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