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Ohio State fires band director Jonathan Waters

Jonathan Waters Credit: Courtesy of OSU

Jonathan Waters
Credit: Courtesy of OSU

Ohio State fired band director Jonathan Waters after a two-month investigation revealed “an environment conducive to sexual harassment” within the band, according to a statement from President Michael Drake released Thursday.

Waters, who took over as band director in 2012, was ousted from his position Thursday.

In his statement, Drake addressed Waters’ termination, saying “nothing is more important than the safety of our students.”

A 23-page investigation report posted on an OSU website detailed various instances of abuse between band students and directors. Examples include an annual band practice in Ohio Stadium that Waters attended where students were expected to march in only their underwear, sexually explicit nicknames for new band members and a case where a female student was told to imitate a sexual act on laps of band members.

Columbus lawyer David Axelrod, who represents Waters, told The Columbus Dispatch that Waters is not sure yet what action he will take.

“Jonathan tried as hard as he could within the constraints upon him to change that culture. He did his absolute best,” Axelrod said.

Axelrod also told the Dispatch Waters was contacted two weeks prior to his termination by the university, which told him he could keep his job as long as he enacted a “zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.”

Axelrod did not immediately return a phone call from The Lantern Friday morning about a possible severance package for Waters.

The Dispatch was the first to report the news Thursday afternoon.

Waters was publicly discussing the band’s plans for the upcoming year as recently as last week. At a panel discussion about the band’s elaborate shows at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, he said the band will perform a “Wizard of Oz”-themed halftime show sometime this fall, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

An OSU spokesman did not immediately respond to an email Friday morning asking whether Waters has had contact with students during the last two months.

During Waters’ time as director, the band started using Apple iPads to help design and learn halftime performances. Some of these shows, including a Michael Jackson tribute show where the band formed legs that moonwalked across the field, went viral on social media.

Apple featured the marching band on an iPad Air television commercial that debuted in January. The company did not immediately return a call Friday inquiring about its relationship with the band given Waters’ termination.

The news of Waters’ firing came out roughly 14 months after two assistant cheerleading coaches were fired in May 2013. An OSU investigation had found “sufficient evidence” both men had violated the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy.

In November, head cheer coach Lenee Buchman was terminated as well for “several serious lapses of judgment and leadership,” according to an email sent to Buchman by OSU athletic director Gene Smith Nov. 22 that was obtained by The Lantern.

The October Office of Human Resources report that discovered those lapses began after a former cheerleader said Buchman had retaliated against him by kicking him off the team for reporting sexual harassment.

OSU’s Sexual Harassment Policy defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances” and “requests for sexual favors,” and includes “other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature” when, among other conditions, it creates an “intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for working, learning or living on campus.”

OSU named Ben Schreiber as the new spirit squad coach in April.


Liz Young and Logan Hickman contributed to this article.


  1. Just look at what happened at Florida A&M. It may start innocently enough, but these are still children in many ways and need strict control and guidance. There are many people out there who can replace Waters, so this should not be a big deal. He failed to do his job. he deserves to be fired.

  2. I don’t think “pervert” is much of a stretch. The OSU songbook “Fags are prancing in East Lansing. Oh what a bunch of queers. So f**k you MSU. Here’s a c**k right up your rear.”

  3. Some of what Alum says is true the band member being kicked out before dotting the i but it was a sexual assault and not with a band member. The accounts that it was a rape being reported to Waters and it being between two band members and he tried to cover it up that’s fiction. Also the criminal piece is up to the victim if they want to have criminal charges that is an external matter. Waters screwed up but having him cover up a rape on the band that’s where we start getting into urban legend territory.

  4. Def Not Anonymous, my name is Matt Homan Class of '14

    give me a f*****g break OSU

  5. Alum to Reality Check

    To Reality Check, July 28, 2014, 6:46 p.m.
    You should also read The Columbus Dispatch article “Ohio State’s marching band culture: Innocent fun or abuse? by Collin Binkley (Sun. July 27, 2014). This might help you rethink the use of your words “fiction” and “urban legend.”

    Question for Reality Check: Did you even read the Investigators’ Report? To me, it does not appear so. If you had, I think your posting would have been more “factual.”

    I hope that others also read the NY Times article, The Columbus Dispatch article, and the Investigators’ Report (all mentioned above)to see the serious issues (rape/sexual assault/alchohol abuse) that occurred under Mr. Waters’ head directorship. Actually, there are more news articles and reports (by other credible news outlets, too) than those listed above where you can read of these serious issues.

  6. Alum to Reality Check

    To Reality Check, July 28, 2014, 6:46 p.m.
    The NY Times article to which I refer in my last posting is by Richard Perez-Pena on July 24, 2014. My last posting says “mentioned above.” Well, it was until The Lantern removed the posting because I included a direct website link. I understand why The Lantern did so, but I do hope that you (and others) find and read this NY Times article that includes facts that might also help you rethink the use of your words “fiction” and “urban legend.”

  7. Alum, (Alum to Reality Check), please email me at spaulding.10 so we may talk. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I admit it is interesting and will probably become more so. I like what you’re writing and wish to pick your brain, as well as share some ideas with you. Lately I’ve been into studying organizational behavior, and Phillip Zimbardo is doing some good work on related stuff. That may inform you a bit about my thinking (along with the classic quote from Lord Acton on what “power” does).


    Karl Spaulding, lifelong student (and former Lantern safety columnist)

  8. Can’t wait to see what Dr. Drake does with the rest of the culture of nepotism, incompetence, and corruption at OSU.

  9. Charles Moncrief

    We met Mr. Waters on Friday before he was fired. We’re adjunct members of the Dallas-area Alumni Association. (My wife was born at your hospital, and I’ve appreciated the alumni I’ve met.) We attend game watches and support the Association’s scholarship program. We also contribute to the James. None of this qualifies me to comment, but for the dots that seem so closely spaced as to beg connecting. We liked Jon Waters. We liked the presentation he made about the band. We like the band. We smell political correctness in the firing of Mr. Waters. And from my perspective it would seem that The Ohio State University has a politically correct president who really needs to be fired in the name of sensibility. In all honesty, it would also suggest an awkward relationship between Mr. Waters and Dr. Drake whenever they’re in the same room or the same campus or the same stadium or the same city. If the environment ain’t big enough for the two of them, ditch Drake.

  10. Another moron president for OSU. Gee, Holbrook, Jennings, how much worse can it get? Get rid o9f this jerk!

  11. Alum Who Cares About the Serious Matters

    I commend the father and daughter who spoke to the media about the daughter (a member of the athletic band directed by Jon Waters) having been sexually assaulted by another band member and Waters mishandling of this serious matter. I also commend the mother who spoke to the media about her daughter (a band member) having been sexually assaulted by another band member under Waters’ head directorship, another serious matter. It took much courage, but your speaking out was necessary and the proper thing to do! Thank you.

    I certainly hope that Betty Montgomery focuses her investigation on these two sexual assaults as well as the over-sexualized and alcohol-abused culture of the OSU band! Any wise person should realize how all of these issues are related. Any wise person should realize that these sexual assaults, which go way beyond just college fun/pranks/jokes/band traditions, are the main points of this whole matter.

    President Drake and the OSU Board of Directors did the correct thing by firing Jon Waters, because if they had kept him and another sexual assault would happen, then it would fall on the shoulders of President Drake and the OSU Board of Directors for not firing Jon Waters in the first place. Then OSU would really be in a big mess!

    I do not understand why so many OSU alumni, OSU band members, OSU students, and parents of OSU students are supporting Jon Waters. To me, it seems that if you support him, then you do not consider sexual assaults as being serious and harmful to not only victims and their families but also to OSU as a whole (when in fact, sexual assaults are serious and harmful and have long-lasting effects). I bet you would think differently if you or your daughter or son were sexually assaulted/raped!

  12. Are name email and website required?

    Dear OSU staff:


    I went to a football game last year. I was walking down Lane Ave. that had been blocked off as most of us know happens .There are apartments there. As I, a 50 yr old woman at the time, and a former OSU student, walked along the street, I was barraged by young men on their lawns, with minimal clothing on, yelling, screaming.. out to any passerby.. and with LARGE SIGNS IN HAND..stating “free facials”..

    After the game, I went to find my car, and yet there were many other disruptive and obscene behaviors being presented to me on the street as I walked by.

    Were these “kids” being held to any standard? That standard to get out on a field, of some hundreds of thousands of people .. to perform? ..don’t miss a step or not guide right..? do the street perverts even know what that means?

    I was assaulted as I tried to attend a football game. Who is responsible for the general behavior of these young adults? If one is to hold Mr. Waters responsible for the actions of few in the band..then who really is responsible and to be held accountable for those kids.. that demoralized me on Lane Ave.?

    What is really sad is the fact that it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, and I’m still up and distressed over this b.s.

    My daughter has been in the band for 4 years. She proudly has decided to do a fifth year, with hesitation. Why.. why would my daughter hesitate at all to be the musician she is, to display her talents, to engage the crowd, to get the thrill – the goosebump feeling as you stand out there on that field as the crowd claps along?

    Dr. Drake, you and all of us are “sexualized” and live in that culture. My daughter had given many hours, lost a lot of sleep, forfeited time with her family on holidays to go to football games, and if warranted, bowl games. I missed my daughter on those holidays. She gave her time to the band, the University.

    She has been a victim not oF any culture of the OSU band, but a victim of being “pimped” out in a group.. the band.. to earn money for the university. Those children have talent. Without that, the Ohio State University would not generate the revenue they seek, to pay your salary. You’re NOT paying my daughter.. she is paying you. And also, offering her talent, stamina and honor to your University.

  13. To Anonymous, August 7, 2014, 3:26 a.m.
    Above, you said that you were “assaulted” as you tried to attend a football game. Do you mean physically assaulted (pushed, kicked, punched, etc.) or sexually assaulted (groped, private body parts pushed up against your private body parts, held down against your will, etc.)? If so, you could have reported that to the OSU police or the Columbus campus-area police. Or, do you actually mean “harrassed” instead of “assaulted”? There is a big difference between “harrassment” and “assault”! Harrassment is bad enough but assault is much worse. Two serious sexual assaults (just not sexual harrassments) happened under Jon Waters’ band directorship, but yet he was still allowing the sexualized culture of the band to continue! Dr. Drake and the OSU Board of Directors was correct in firing Jon Waters.

  14. Old time Buckeye Alumni

    So let me get this straight: Gene Smith the AD at Ohio State is in the university org chart overseeing TBDBITL. And he’s been AD for how man years…10 maybe? And he never once heard a peep at any of these so-called egregious acts of a sexualized culture variety? Is that what we are supposed to believe?

  15. Old time Buckeye Alumni

    Abercrombie + Fitch Emergency Room at OSU Wexner Medical Centerr. Nothing sexualized about that organization and it’s deplorable history of exploiting teenage girls and boys. Nothing at all. Got it.

  16. Xenia Highschool

    Ian Polster, while the band director at Xenia High School in Xenia, Ohio, and a married man, had sexual relations with female teachers and female band members. His comments dismissing harassment are rich. He’s such a hypocrite!

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