Ohio State Fires Band Director Jonathan Waters Due to "Sexualized Culture"

By D.J. Byrnes on July 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm

As first reported by The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio State has fired their band director, Jon Waters.

According to the report, OSU ran an internal, two-month investigation that "uncovered a deep culture of sexual harassment among students that reportedly existed for years." (Ohio State's full report can be read here.)

A "cascade of evidence" was uncovered about routine sexual harassment among band members, and that the director either knew or "should have known."

The university’s 23-page report states that a parent of a band member contacted Ohio State’s Office of University Compliance and Integrity on May 23. There were several concerns which dealt with a sexualized culture permeating in the band and secrecy oaths about “objectionable traditions and customs”

The information provided by the parent constitutes a complaint under the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy 1.15 and Title IX.

Ohio State found “The Marching Band’s culture facilitated acts of sexual harassment, creating a hostile environment for students” and that Waters “knew or reasonably should have known about this culture but failed to eliminate the sexual harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” 

Examples of abuse range from an annual midnight band practice, referred to as “Midnight Ramp,” where band members perform the ramp entrance wearing only their underwear, to nicknames, which are often obscene and sexual. Waters is present at the Midnight Ramp and was fully aware of the nicknames, according to the report.

Waters said nicknames are published in the band’s alumni network directory and provided the university with the most recent issue. They found that many were sexually implicit. Waters estimated “fifty percent” of the nicknames were questionable.

There were also claims of alcohol poisoning, which led a staff member to resign after Waters refused to investigate the matter. 

According to multiple witnesses, cases of hazing involved first-year band members having articles of clothing removed as they walked from the front of the bus to the back on road trips. 

Waters termed the culture and treatment of women in the band as “a work in progress.” 

Ohio State president Michael Drake released the following statement:

Here's Ohio State's statement in full:

The Ohio State University takes very seriously its responsibility to provide a world class education, which is enriched by a positive campus culture, diverse academic experience and opportunities for personal growth. Those responsibilities are built on the University's core values of integrity, personal accountability, openness and trust.

While the Ohio State Marching Band has embraced a tradition of excellence and become a source of enormous pride for the entire Buckeye family, a recent review of the Marching Band culture and practices revealed conduct by members of the band and staff that is inconsistent with the University's values and Title IX requirements.

A thorough investigation by the Office of University Compliance over the past two months revealed serious cultural issues and an environment conducive to sexual harassment within the Marching Band. In addition, the investigation determined that Director Waters was aware or reasonably should have known about this culture but failed to eliminate it, prevent its recurrence and address its effects.

Jon Waters has been terminated from his position as Director of the Marching Band.

"Nothing is more important than the safety of our students," said The Ohio State University President Michael Drake. "We expect every member of our community to live up to a common standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university policies.

Moving forward, we must abide by a zero tolerance policy at the University—both with the Marching Band and the entire campus community—for any behavior that creates a hostile culture at Ohio State. I view this as a new day and an opportunity for the Ohio State community to come together and embrace the values and behavior that have made this University great."

In addition to changing the leadership of the Marching Band, the University immediately has taken additional steps to ensure that change is swift and impactful. This begins with the appointment of Betty Montgomery, former Ohio Attorney General, to lead an independent task force, reporting directly to President Drake and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, to review this matter in its entirety. This task force will include nationally-recognized experts:

• Ernst & Young, which will conduct an investigatory review.
• Sports Conflict Institute, which will conduct an independent review of the Ohio State Band culture.
• Outside counsel to provide guidance on Title IX compliance.

At this time, the Ohio State Marching Band season will continue under new leadership and steps are being taken to swiftly identify an interim band director. Additional training and guidance will be developed with new band leadership to create a proper culture, and nurturing environment.

Waters was instrumental in bringing The Best Damn Band in the Land into the 21st century, orchestrating spectacular halftime shows that captivated internet audiences around the world.

As recently as last week, Waters was talking about his plans for this fall.

Waters, 38, is an Ohio State graduate and former band member, who dotted the “i” at the 1998 Michigan game. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music education and two master’s degrees in music education and conducting.

Waters served as the assistant band director under Dr. Jon Woods for 10 years before succeeding him in 2012.

Ohio State seeks to name an interim director before conducting a search for a permanent director.

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