Ousted Ohio State band leader fights for vindication, job

Jon Waters defends his record against charges that the band was a "sexualized culture."

Ohio State University marching band director Jon Waters, ousted amid charges that a sexualized culture had taken hold in the nationally prominent institution, said he worked to change the atmosphere that led to his dismissal and that he would fight to get his job back.

Waters defended his records in several national television appearances Tuesday, part of recent defensive actions that have included marshaling support from band alumni and establishing a fund to pay the legal costs associated with his fight.

“This was my dream job. I love Ohio State and I love those students,” Waters told ABC News. “And I’m here to set the record straight. I’m here to point out we have taken tremendous steps to improve the culture and move the band forward.”

Waters' comments were immediately rebuffed by the university in emails to media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.

“First and foremost, it is important to note that the marching band, like math or physics, is an academic course in which students receive credit and a grade,” the university countered. “The band is neither a club nor an organization and its leadership and students must adhere to the same standards as any other member of the university community.”

In the statement, the university said that Waters hasn't produced “any factual examples that demonstrate any tangible attempts to change band culture.” The statement also charged that Waters “misled” university officials during the process.

In an internal report prepared for the university after it received a complaint from a parent, Waters was accused of knowing about a “sexualized culture” of pranks, rituals and similar college shenanigans. According to the report, students were regularly hazed, forced to perform sexually explicit stunts and even told to march into the stadium in their underwear late at night in a tradition called “Midnight Ramp.”

Waters argued that the report was too limited, talking to just nine current and former band members.

“The sample size was tremendously small for such an important issue as band culture,” Waters told ABC. “I think I was the victim of a rush to judgment and a very inaccurate report.”

“The culture in our band is entrenched and because it’s entrenched, it doesn’t turn on a dime,” Waters told the "Today Show's" Savannah Guthrie. “And so on my first day, I did indeed engage with our leadership and our leadership team in trying to shape that culture, in trying to eliminate poor behaviors.”

The university disagreed.

“University policy dictates that any employee who becomes aware of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that sexual harassment has occurred must notify the Office of Human Resources within five working days of becoming aware of the information—the former band director did not notify university officials. In fact, he failed to inform or consult with others regarding the misconduct, as required by university policy, despite having numerous opportunities to do so over the past 18 months,” the school stated.

Waters had been head of the band -- which bills itself as “The Best Damn Band in the Land,” -- since 2012. He is credited with devising many of the intricate routines, including the homage to dead pop star Michael Jackson, which seemed to have more moving pieces and players than a Lego sculpture. The popular halftime shows, which have drawn praise and millions of eyeballs on YouTube, were choreographed on an iPad, leading to an Apple commercial for the band in January.

Band alumni have backed Waters and recently met with top school officials to discuss the firing.

On Monday, the university named two music professors to be the interim leaders of the marching band, with one focusing on compliance and student safety. The school has announced it will conduct a national search for a new director.

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