OSU fires marching band director over harassment culture

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

Jonathan N. Waters

  • Had served as Ohio State University's director of marching and athletic bands since October 2012
  • Previously served as interim and assistant director, 2002-2012; and graduate assistant, 2000-2002
  • Earned bachelor's degree in music education in 1999, and two masters' degrees in music education and wind band conducting from OSU in 2001    
  • Played sousaphone in the band, 1995-1999, including dotting the "i" before the OSU-Michigan game in 1998    
  • Paid $188,504 by OSU in 2013
  • Native of Elmore, Ohio    
  • Married with three children    


From the 92-page investigative report on how the marching band culture facilitated sexual harassment and created a hostile environment for students:

  • "Witnesses described an event called "Midnight Ramp," which they explained was a longstanding tradition involving Marching Band members wearing only their underwear marching into the football stadium through the ramp. Staff members, including Jonathan Waters, are present and oversee the activity… Assistant Director Michael Smith witnessed Midnight Ramp for the first time in August 2013 and was surprised by the tradition. He stated that he recalled thinking at the time, 'I don't believe I just witnessed that.'"
  • "Each new Band member (traditionally called a "Rookie") is assigned a nickname by upperclassmen. Multiple witnesses noted that many such nicknames are sexually explicit or have an implicit sexual meaning. One witness said that in 2013, all three new members of one row had sexual nicknames: 'Captain Dildo,' 'Barker,' and 'Pat Fenis.'"
  • "Witnesses stated that "tricks" are acts individual Band members perform, either on command or at their own volition. Several witnesses described how tricks are assigned to rookies, and often are performed throughout their entire tenure in the Band. The tricks are usually connected to the students' assigned nicknames."
  • "Several witnesses indicated that new Band members were subject to 'Rookie Introductions,' which occurred at the front of a moving bus en route to away games. These sometimes included sexually explicit questioning and dirty jokes. A witness stated that one such episode entailed using a dildo as a microphone."
  • "Several witnesses stated that they routinely change clothes on the bus in front of members of the opposite sex. Many witnesses stated that this is a common practice for bands and happens in high school. One witness stated that she complained to Waters about having to change clothes on the bus and he ignored her."
  • "Much of the misconduct was directed by upperclassmen towards newer members of the Band. Some of this misconduct was directly witnessed and permitted by Band staff."
  • "Waters admitted that fifty percent of rookie nicknames are considered offensive or sexual in nature. Moreover, Waters provided a copy of the TBDBITL Alumni Directory, which was updated in June 2014 and lists sexually explicit nicknames, including some given to new members in 2013. Waters also stated that he knows that "tricks" exist in connection with nicknames."

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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