Ohio State marching band chief fired after probe

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State University fired the
director of its celebrated marching band on Thursday after determining
he ignored a "sexualized" culture of rituals including students being
pressured to march in their underwear and participate in sexually themed
stunts.
Jonathan Waters had led the band since 2012, and served
in lesser capacities for a decade before that. His halftime shows for
what’s known to fans as "The Best Damn Band in the Land" were considered
revolutionary and drew millions of viewers on YouTube.
Ohio State
President Michael Drake, on the job just three weeks, said in an
Associated Press interview that he was "profoundly disappointed and
shocked" by the findings of a two-month investigation that began before
his arrival.
"This is 2014, and we respect our students as young
adults," Drake said. "We respect women, and we respect all the different
people who work with us, we respect that diversity. We just had to make
a square-wave change between this report, which was unacceptable, and
the future, which we start today."
The probe determined Waters
knew about and failed to stop what the university called "serious
cultural issues" within the band. Email and phone messages were left for
Waters and the band alumni association seeking comment.
In the
report, Waters denies the allegations against him — including that he
texted sexual limericks to band members — and disagrees that the band’s
culture is sexualized. He said the culture was evolving, while
suggesting to investigators "that sexual innuendo is found in much of
what college students do."
A spokesman said the university was
required to promptly perform the probe under federal Title IX sexual
discrimination laws, after a parent complained band members were asked
to swear secrecy oaths "about objectionable traditions and customs,"
some in place well before Waters took over.
Those included raunchy
songs and a late-night march, described as optional, in which band
members stripped down to their underwear. Investigators found band staff
and directors, including Waters, had sometimes attended. One female
student said older members of the band would warn newcomers to wear
"fuller coverage" undergarments for the event; others wore pajamas or
shorts, but some marched naked.
In the report, assistant Director
Michael Smith said he didn’t believe it when he saw it. An associate
band director, Christopher Hech, said he recalled a student having
alcohol poisoning at the event some years ago.
The report also
described students earning sexually themed nicknames based on tasks
other band members assigned them: One female student had to pretend to
have an orgasm while sitting on the lap of her brother, a fellow band
member, and others pretended to be sex toys, prostitutes or body parts.
Waters was aware of some students’ nicknames and allegedly used them
"when he was upset," witnesses said, but he’s also reported to have
advised students against the monikers.
Drake, the university’s
first black president, said he wants to see the band get beyond such
activities and carry on its tradition of excellence.
"There are an infinite number of ways that people can bond that are not really demeaning and
anachronistic," he said.
The
university has appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery
to lead an independent task force assigned to review the matter, which
will include representatives from Ernst & Young, the Sports Conflict
Institute and outside counsel to provide guidance on Title IX
compliance.
Waters started in the band as an undergraduate,
playing sousaphone all four years during college. He graduated in 2000
and became a graduate assistant with the band, its assistant director
and then interim director under Jon Woods, who retired after 25 years.
Waters told an OSU Alumni Club gathering in Chillicothe in March his was
"the greatest job in America."
His firing was first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.
During
his tenure, Waters revolutionized the band’s halftime shows through the
use of iPads instead of paper, allowing students to morph into the
shapes of horses, superheroes and dinosaurs galloping, flying and
tromping across the field. Its technological advances landed the band in
an Apple commercial in January. One performance in which the band takes
the shape of a moonwalking Michael Jackson has more than 10 million
views on YouTube.
Drake said band staff is working this week to
carry the band season forward smoothly as a new director is found.
Members of the 225-member band are scheduled to perform this weekend
with the Columbus Symphony, in an annual event considered the unofficial
start of its season.