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Ohio State University Marching Band Director Fired

OSU marching band - Flickr.com photo by David Grant
OSU marching band - Flickr.com photo by David Grant

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.

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

The report 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 Water’s 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.

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.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.