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OSU fires marching band director over harassment culture

Director Jonathan Waters failed to address wrongdoing, new president says.


Ohio State University fired marching band director Jonathan Waters on Thursday after a two-month investigation revealed a culture of sexual harassment and hazing within “The Best Damn Band in the Land.”

The 92-page investigation concluded that Waters, who was a sousaphone player in the band in the late 1990s, was aware or should have known about this culture but failed to eliminate or address it, the university said. The investigation was triggered by a complaint from a band member’s mother.

OSU paid Waters $188,504 last year, according to an open records requests from the Dayton Daily News .

OSU President Michael Drake said in a statement posted online: “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. 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.”

Drake, who started as university president three weeks ago, announced that former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery will lead an independent task force to review the matter. An interim band director has yet to be named. Ohio State’s home opener is Sept. 6 against Virginia Tech. The band’s 255 members practice 30 hours a week to learn music and formations during football season.

The 92-page investigative report issued by the Office of University Compliance found:

  • Band members swore oaths not to disclose secret traditions;
  • The “Midnight Ramp” tradition called for members to march into the football stadium wearing only their underwear;
  • Rookies were assigned nicknames by upperclassmen, including sexually explicit monikers such as Captain Dildo, Testicles and Boob Job;
  • Students performed “tricks” on demand or of their own volition at parties or on trips. A woman whose nickname was Squirt would sit on laps, including her younger brother’s, and pretend to orgasm.

 

Witnesses describe the marching band as a family and a guy’s club where intimidation and alcohol abuse are part of the culture. Investigators concluded that band staff witnessed and permitted the student misconduct. Pamela Bork, a physical therapist who volunteered with the band for 18 years, resigned after an away game road trip to California in September 2013. Bork told investigators that Waters refused to address the alcohol abuse on the trip. Other witnesses said Waters wanted to be “the cool guy” in the band and friends with the students.

Long bus trips seemed to be where much of the harassment took place. Investigators said rookies, or new band members, were introduced using sex props or dirty jokes and were groped and given “mid-term exams” that involved sexually explicit behavior on the bus. A “Trip Tic,” an anonymous newsletter circulated on the bus, disparaged members. A songbook with alternate misogynistic and sexual lyrics to Ohio State and other college fight songs was circulated. And members performed “flying 69” where two students would hang upside down from the bus luggage rack or allow others to hold them up in the air.

The report also noted that Waters nearly botched the handling of a sexual harassment complaint in March 2013 by insisting that both the victim and harasser be forced to skip a game. That could have been seen as retaliation against the woman who filed the complaint. And investigators noted one band member was expelled after he sexually assaulted a female band mate in the fall of 2013.

The university pledged to change the band culture through training, counseling, communication, monitoring and culture checks.

The move comes on the heels of the band earning national recognition for its complex half-time shows that have garnered millions of views on YouTube. The band was also featured in a national advertising campaign for iPads after Waters issued the notebook computers to each member to chart the complicated shows.

In November 2011, Florida A&M band drum major Robert Champion collapsed and died following a hazing incident on the band bus. The band was suspended for two years and several members faced criminal charges.



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