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Ohio State band director fired for 'sexualized' culture

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Ohio State Marching Band facilitated a culture of "sexual harassment," a report says
  • The university president fired band director Jonathan Waters, a former band member
  • Waters' lawyer said his client tried to change a sexual climate that predated his tenure

(CNN) -- The Ohio State University Marching Band, known for entertaining fans at sporting events with hypnotic formations choreographed to music, was also known among university insiders for a culture that facilitated sexual harassment, according to an investigative report.

Marching band director Jonathan Waters was fired Thursday after the report's release, Ohio State University President Michael Drake said. Waters' lawyer said his client was a "convenient scapegoat" who tried to change a sexual climate that predated his tenure as director.

Waters had known for years about the "sexualized" environment surrounding the band, in which members had to swear an oath of secrecy to protect its "objectionable traditions and customs," according to an investigation report released by the Office of University Compliance and Integrity. He failed to eliminate and prevent the recurrence of this climate, the report said.

Lawyer defends Ohio State band director

A parent of a marching band member alerted the office to the problem, the report said.

"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 policies."

The report described traditions such as the "midnight ramp," in which band members entered the stadium through a ramp wearing only their underwear. Staff members, including Waters, were present for the annual event, the report alleges.

Nicknames, many sexually explicit, were given to new members each year by upperclassmen as well as a "trick," an act often simulating sexually explicit acts that usually corresponded with the nickname. These tricks were to be performed by members "on command or at their own volition," the report said.

When Waters was asked by investigators about the offensive nicknames, he said "50%" were probably "questionable," according to the report.

After being told that sexual nicknames were not appropriate, investigators asked Waters why he tolerated the practice. He responded, "good point," the report alleges.

The tricks, however, were not performed in front of staff, according to several witnesses interviewed in the report.

New band members also took part in "rookie introductions," where they stood at the front of a bus en route to games and answered sexual questions or told dirty jokes before walking to the back of the bus "while other students attempted to remove articles of clothing," the report said.

Waters' lawyer, David Axelrod, said his client was named acting director in February 2013 but that the objectionable acts laid out in the report started many years before.

Waters had previously served in other staff positions and was a sousaphone player in the band as a student from 1995 to 1999, the report said.

The marching band, which calls itself "the best damn band in the land," consists of 225 members and garnered international attention in 2013 for its halftime show tribute to Michael Jackson, which has over 10 million views on YouTube.

"During his time as director he did everything he could to stop this," Axelrod said.

The university has appointed former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery to lead an independent task force to further investigate and ensure steps are taken to change the band culture, Drake said.

It is unclear what steps Waters will take next, Axelrod said.

"In one way or another Jon is going to fight to restore his name. Jon was Ohio State. He bleeds scarlet and gray," Axelrod said. "He won't let his beloved alma mater take away his good name."

Read the university's statement on the Ohio State Marching Band culture

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