TBDBITL Director Out Of Job Over “Serious Cultural Issues”

The Ohio State University Marching Band director Jon Waters has been fired after an investigation revealed a sexually-charged culture in the band.(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)
The Ohio State University Marching Band director Jon Waters has been fired after an investigation revealed a sexually-charged culture in the band.(Photo: Thomas Bradley / WOSU)

In his two years as director of the OSU Marching Band, Jonathan Waters was praised for using technology to develop complex routines that went viral on the web.

Now Jon Waters is out of a job. OSU fired him after an investigation found what officials call “serious cultural issues.” WOSU reports Waters intends to clear his name.

Waters’ firing comes after a two-month investigation prompted by complaints made by a parent of a band member. The investigation uncovered sexually-explicit activities which appear to have gone for years.

In an online video statement, Ohio State University President Michael Drake called the findings of the investigation “profoundly [disappointing].”

“Very serious cultural issues and an environment conducive to sexual harassment within the band creating a hostile environment for students,” Drake said.

Ohio State compliance investigators interviewed nine former and current band members, Waters and other band leaders.

An OSUMB T-Shirt displays the nickname of one of the band members.

An OSUMB T-Shirt displays the nickname of one of the band members. This nickname was mentioned in the unversity’s report. Photo: YouTube

The report (warning: contains explicit material) details a “tradition” which involved band members marching into the Horseshoe late at night wearing only underwear; a “newsletter” with explicit, disparaging information about band members; rookie band members were given sexually-charged nicknames. It also describes drunken, sexually lewd behavior during away games and on buses.

Investigators concluded band director Jonathan Waters knew, or should have known, about the activities and failed to eliminate the sexual harassment. The report also states Waters would yell and swear at band members at times.

“Even one instance of harassment or hazing or assault is one too many,” OSU President Drake said. “And though we are not alone among campuses across America facing these issues. This is our home and our responsibility.”

Contacted by phone, Waters declined to comment, but he referred us to his attorney, David Axelrod. Axelrod would not be recorded for this story.

Axelrod said Waters was shocked by the termination. He said OSU, last week, gave Waters a choice: quit or adopt a zero-tolerance policy and agree to a cultural assessment of the band. Axelrod said his client whole-heartedly agreed to cooperate and keep his job.

But Axelrod said university officials called Waters back, this week, and reneged on their offer, giving Waters another choice: resign or be fired. Axelrod said the university has given no reason for the change in offer.

Waters has a long history with the OSU Marching Band. Before he became band director in fall 2012, he was an assistant director. As a student he marched with the band.

Axelrod called Waters’ firing “inappropriate” and”unfair,” noting Waters inherited the cultural issues.

In the report, Waters said he took steps to fix the culture. He said he eliminated the underwear march in the “Shoe and banned the derogatory “newsletters.”

But when investigators asked Waters why he tolerated sexually-explicit nicknames, he responded with, “Good point.”

Assistant Band Director Christopher Hoch testified “the Marching Band’s culture…is moving in the right direction,” he said.

“No one has worked harder to address the culture than Waters,” Hoch said.

And a former band member we talked to, on condition of anonymity, said Waters did make efforts to change the culture and suspended a band member for inappropriate behavior.

But OSU president Drake said the university will move forward with a new band director.

“We must do better,” Drake said. “Every single student on our campus must be able to learn, to grow and to experience Ohio State in a positive environment.”

The University said it will offer counseling to band members as they need it. And OSU officials said former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery will conduct an assessment of the band’s culture and offer counsel on Title IX compliance.

Axelrod contends Waters has been “wrongfully terminated.” He said Waters plans to clear his name, though Axelrod could not say if that means a lawsuit in the future.

More: John Waters curses at a student in 2013

  • FormerUNTMarchingBandMember

    ” The report also states Waters would yell and swear at band members at times.” – Obviously the authors of the report were never members of a college marching band as this is standard behavior for a band director who has to deal with, among other things, drumlines and trumpet players.

  • oh my

    Sounds like something has been blown totally out of proportion yet once again by the higher ups. He has been director two years and had already taken action to put and end to and ended some of the problems.

  • Kathleen Moore Marriott

    OSU president is brand spanking new and self-professed “not a football fan”. Firing Waters is a total knee-jerk reaction and he is a scapegoat in my opinion. Several years ago when then president Karen Holbrook tried to crack down on tailgating and curtail some of the football/party atmosphere here at OSU there was huge public backlash. She didn’t last very long and Drake is starting off on a very shaky foot if this is how he is going to handle things. I am a scientist, not an athlete, but I attend every home game ans love the buckeyes (band and teams). I am not naive in seeing that the money and notoriety that OSU football brings to this university gets spread out to all parts of the campus. The marching band has become an integral part of the OSU football identity – mess with it and you will have a lot of pissed off Bucks in the stands. Where else do peopolle STAY in their seats at halftime???

    • brian

      so in other words, if it’s profitable and successful, the university should turn a blind eye.

  • GCity Jacob

    This is a classic case of the national media honing in on ANY OSU issues and John Waters is this incident’s scapegoat. The guy is really supposed to change decades of traditions within a few years? Come on Drake! You just lost the person most responsible for OSUMBs fame because of long-lived band traditions often occurring outside of regular band practice times? Open your wallet Sir, the defamation and termination w/o probable cause suits are right around the corner (though wont get the coverage this sensational story will). Last check, college students are primarily adults. Would I strip down to my underwear to be accepted by the larger, peer group? I have….w/o a single regret!!!!! No member is made to do anything against their will!!!

  • Buckeyegrad06

    I am also pretty sure that none of the coaches on campus are getting fired for yelling and swearing at their student athletes. This is a complete double standard. The band members and athletes are adults, not children. If they don’t like getting yelled at, perhaps they are not cut out for collegiate marching band.