Fired Waters released documents that he was trying to change culture of OSU band

Published 11:49 pm Sunday, August 3, 2014

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio State University’s fired marching band director was working to fix a vulgar culture “in dire need of change” before he was dismissed last week, he said in a document released by his attorney.

The university fired Jonathan Waters last week after a two-month investigation concluded he knew about, but failed to stop, a “sexualized culture” of rituals that included students being pressured to march in their underwear and to perform sexually themed stunts that yielded often-explicit nicknames.

Waters’ halftime shows are considered revolutionary. Videos of the morphing and dancing images the band creates on the field have drawn millions of hits on YouTube and landed it in an Apple commercial.

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Waters detailed the changes he was trying to make in a seven-page document prepared when the university began investigating allegations of sexual harassment within the band. His attorney released the document Wednesday night. Waters said he instituted leadership retreats for section leaders and staff; hosted a national hazing-prevention event; ensured the band’s formal dance was alcohol-free; and disciplined students who were behind an underground band newsletter, the “Trip-Tic,” that had grown increasingly vulgar.

In the document, Waters said that he recognized upon taking over the band 20 months earlier that aspects of its culture were “vestiges representing cultural norms from eras gone by” and that culture needed to change.

He said the band staff had begun a process of “concentrated pressure for real, lasting change within the organization,” under the belief that “the best and most permanent change occurs from within the organization.”

Attorney David Axelrod said investigators did not acknowledge the contents of the document in their report, and the band alumni association has suggested Waters wasn’t afforded due process.

“You would think that if they wanted to be fair, they would say he did do these things but it wasn’t enough,” Axelrod said. “But that’s not what they did.”

A university spokesman had no immediate comment on the document submitted by Waters or its place in the investigation. The report states it was received July 14, after Waters was twice questioned by investigators.

“The document does not change the analysis in this report,” they wrote. Investigators found Waters was aware about half of band nicknames were offensive, was in charge when a suggestive trick was performed on a band bus, and was allowing the underwear march to proceed until he learned of the investigation.

Waters’ firing has touched off a maelstrom for new Ohio State President Michael Drake, who has said the culture hostile to students that was uncovered by investigators was demeaning and unacceptable. He has enlisted former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead a task force in a full review.

The band’s alumni association says its own ongoing review contradicts aspects of the university’s investigation.

“The honor and traditions of generations of members and staff of the Ohio State University Marching Band have been misrepresented, insulted and dishonored by the release of the unbalanced Investigation Report, together with attachments long predating the term of Mr. Waters as the director,” the TBDBITL Alumni Club Inc. said in a statement.

The group gets its name for the band’s nickname, “The Best Damn Band in the Land.”

Gary Leppla, the club’s legal chair, said the group feels the university rushed to judgment and is calling for Waters’ reinstatement.

“Let’s use common sense. We want to get it right. Is this guy the problem, or is he the solution? We believe, based on our investigation, he’s the solution,” said Leppla, a band alum and former Ohio State Bar Association president.

Axelrod said Waters was traveling the country raising money from alumni for Ohio State at the time of his firing. He made 25 appearances in cities around the country, he said.