COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio State University fired the director of
its celebrated marching band on Thursday amid allegations he knew about
and ignored "serious cultural issues," some involving rituals where
students were pressured to march in their underwear or 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.
Email and phone messages were left with Waters and the band alumni
association seeking comment. The firing was first reported by The
Ohio State President Michael Drake, on the job just three weeks,
issued a video statement on the university website indicating a
two-month investigation uncovered a "sexualized" culture inside the band
and determined Waters knew about and failed to stop harassment. A
spokesman said the university was required to promptly perform the probe
after a parent complained, under federal Title IX sexual discrimination
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our students," Drake
said. "We expect every member of our community to live up to a common
standard of decency and mutual respect and to adhere to university
Many of the activities were longstanding traditions that predated Waters' tenure as director, the report said.
The parent complaint said band members must swear secrecy oaths
"about objectionable traditions and customs," including a late-night
march in which band members stripped down to their underwear.
Investigators found band directors, including Waters, and staff had been
present at times for the march, which predated Waters' tenure as
director. One female student said more senior members of the band warn
new members about the event, and advise them to wear items that provide
Assistant Director Michael Smith said he'd witnessed the optional
underwear march -- though some wear pajamas or shorts while others go
completely naked, according to witnesses -- and said he didn't believe
what he'd seen. 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 performances other band members assigned them: One female
student had to pretend to orgasm while sitting on the lap of her younger
brother, a fellow band member, and others pretended to be sex toys,
prostitutes or body parts.
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 two years ago after 25
years. Waters told an OSU Alumni Club gathering in Chillicothe in March
is was "the greatest job in America."
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 the band season will go on as usual as the search for a
new director begins. 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.
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.
Drake, the university's first black president, said he'll abide by a
zero tolerance policy going forward: "I view this as a new day and an
opportunity for the Ohio State community to come together and embrace
the values and behavior that have made this University great."