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Flawed band culture stems from lack of university oversight, Betty Montgomery’s investigation finds

Former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery answers questions Nov. 18 about the second cultural investigation into OSU's marching band. Credit: Logan Hickman / Campus editor

Former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery answers questions Nov. 18 about the second cultural investigation into OSU’s marching band.
Credit: Logan Hickman / Campus editor

Flaws in the Ohio State Marching Band’s culture were partially a result of limited university oversight, according to the findings of a second cultural investigation into the band that were released Tuesday.

The investigation was led by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and found the band has been isolated from routine university supervision for more than 50 years — part of the reason for limited oversight.

Tensions between the School of Music and the marching band widened that gap, the investigation’s final report said. Personality conflicts, differences in the quality of facilities, concerns over funding and disparities between the School of Music, in particular, were mentioned.

Montgomery’s task force was commissioned to conduct an assessment of the band’s culture, review university processes and oversight and provide counsel on Title IX compliance issues. Title IX states schools that receive federal funding can’t discriminate against people based on gender.

Even though the investigation found the band contains a “culture of excellence, hard work and esprit de corps,” the final report made 37 recommendations to help correct some of the issues. Some of them seek to eliminate certain band traditions and create more effective oversight.

One recommendation was to reinstitute the tradition of upperclassmen giving nicknames to rookies after it was banned following the first investigation.

The task force found that rookie nicknames are still happening and have since gone underground. They recommended nicknames be permitted as long as they are reviewed by the compliance officer. Students using unapproved nicknames should receive disciplinary measures, the report said.

Other recommendations include leaving the band in the School of Music, requiring training for bus chaperones and creating clear guidelines for Fesler Night videos.

Some past videos shown on Fesler Night — an annual night when newly selected band members are introduced to current members, staff and traditions — were sexual in nature.

One example from 2012 explained a video where a topless female band member opened a door to a surprised pizza deliveryman. A video from 2011 was described where students presented inappropriate nicknames and nudity to Waters, who appeared as himself in the video, for approval.

Moving forward, OSU plans to review the task force’s recommendations and take action, university spokesman Chris Davey said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Today’s report confirms that changes needed to be made within the band and its culture. We take the report’s conclusions very seriously,” he said.

Montgomery’s findings took about twice the time expected, based on the early October deadline given to her by OSU President Michael Drake.

She said part of the reason for the delay was because of the extensive interviews she and her team conducted for the investigation.

The task force interviewed 185 individuals — including current and former band members, staff and other “interested parties,” according to a Tuesday press release from the public relations firm representing Montgomery’s team.

The task force hired three outside firms to help in the investigation. At least two of those firms were paid a combined $885 an hour, and while the contract with one of those firms limited the total compensation to $49,000, the other agreement did not specify a limit.

Meanwhile, Waters — who is suing the university and some of its leaders — submitted new court filings this week saying OSU breached an implied contract by firing him, even though he was an at-will employee.

Waters’ move came about a month after OSU asked the court to dismiss his case because of his at-will status. It also said he knew of a problematic, sexually charged culture in the marching band and didn’t address the problems.

Waters is suing for a minimum of $1 million in compensatory damages, in addition to seeking punitive damages, attorney fees and reinstatement. His lawsuit says the university discriminated against him on the basis of gender and that OSU did not provide him with due process after the initial investigation into the band’s culture.

Water’s attorney David Axelrod has since said Waters will look for a new job.

“(Waters) is a productive person and he’s not a person who is going to sit around and wait for something to come to him,” Axelrod said. “Maybe he will make the ‘best damn band in the land for somebody else.’”

The university has said it plans on naming a new director by February. University Bands director Russel Mikkelson and associate director Scott Jones are serving as the interim directors until that permanent director is selected.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced after a compliance review of the university was concluded Sept. 11 that it will enter into an agreement with OSU to ensure proper Title IX obedience, according to a release.

In the release, the OCR agreed with the university that a “sexually hostile environment” within the band violated Title IX and praised the university for its handling of the situation.

OSU was one of 55 U.S. colleges and universities being investigated by the department for its handling of sexual abuse complaints under Title IX. The review began in 2010 and was not complaint-based, the release said.


  1. The witch hunt continues with yet another predictable bureaucratic solution: Form a committee and hire another administrator. Seriously? Another administrator is the last thing Ohio State needs. Creating a compliance department for the athletic department had zero impact other than providing high paying jobs to a few friends.

    If the University used the same criteria for the sports teams and student organizations that they are imposing on the band, they would be forced to fire most of the coaches and advisers.

    Having known many former band members and their families, and hearing their side of the story, I suspect that this report was embellished and crafted to support the University, not to get at the truth.

    I fear that Ohio State is digging a deeper and deeper hole for themselves, trying hard to justify an unjustified termination of a good employee. I have to ask whether it may be time for the University president and the Board of Trustees to resign. As an alumnus, quite frankly, I am not happy with the direction the behavior of those who run OSU. I expect honesty and integrity from its leadership, not petty politics. Furthermore, over five million dollars in donations have been lost over the university’s actions. As time goes on, this event looks to be not only a result of poor decision-making, but what appears to be a personal grudge against Jon Waters.

  2. Oh, and lest anyone forget, former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who headed up this latest “investigation” was best known for dragging her feet when charged with investigating one of her campaign contributors, Tom Noe, in the infamous BWC Coingate scandal in 2006. She lost an election over this. You be the judge as whether this report should be trusted.

  3. Oh Betty! Please.

  4. Witch hunt?

    It certainly is quite obvious to the putlic by now that there were degrading and unacceptable practices within the illustrious OSUMB organization.

    Why do persons keep attacking the “processes” and not acknowledge the need for substantive changes in an otherwise wonderful organization?

  5. Which hunt?

    Are we hunting for reasons to condemn yet another thorough report against Jon Waters? Wake up and smell the coffee. He’s not coming back, and continually antagonizing the University only hurts current band members.

  6. So this report completely destroys the conclusions of the biased and flawed “Glaros report”. When is the university going to issue a statement that agrees with Betty Montgomery’s report: the band did not have a “sexualized culture”, the band did not have a hostile environment, the number of assaults within the band was at a much lower rate than the rates outside of the band, that the problems that exist in the band stem from lack of university over site and not from the band director. As an alumni of the band I am awaiting an apology to the alumni of the band, the current members, and the reinstatement of Jon Waters as director!

  7. Wow! $885/hour to investigate and file a report with one contract basically being a T&M job without a NTE limit to perform this work – what deal for that firm. And how is this being paid for – by the generous donors where it was thought to go towards education, scholarships, improvements, research, etc.?

    Really struggling here on if I should continue my annual high three-to-low four figure donation to this great university. A very bad taste of politics continues and the mouthwash is more beauracratic garbage.

    Go BUCKS!!!

  8. Roger meyer and hmmm,

    Yes the band had issues…any organization does! The point is the firing of Waters was unwarranted when in fact it was the administration that was not doing their job. The universities constistant attacks against the band are unjust.

  9. I think anyone trying to deny that there were problems within the band is just fooling themselves. Even Jon Waters admitted that there were problems. What’s interesting about this report is that nearly every recommendation made by Betty Montgomery’s report was already being implemented by Waters (aside from the whole “let’s make a bunch of committees” ideas).

  10. To many prior commenters: This article does not imply that the report absolves Waters or any previous director of responsibility. It simply names lack of oversight as an additional contributing factor (on top of director malfeasance) to the issues in the band.

    As someone who had involvement with the band, I watched the directors (including Waters) force people out of band-related activities (tryouts, A-band, etc) for reporting bullying from band members. I saw them discourage people (including actively threatening retaliation) for anyone who wanted to take issues to the dean of the school of music.

    These people would do anything to protect their fiefdom and they got away with it due to lack of oversight. That doesn’t make their actions any more ethical.

  11. Dennis,

    We’re these alleged cover-ups included in this report? We’re these actions reported to OSU officials at the time they occurred?

  12. InterestedObserver

    Before anyone comments, please take the time to read the student verbatims in the appendix and in particular the ones singled out by females. I applaud Betty for including this perspective on the band culture. Perhaps it is symmantic, but I personally took offense to labeling everyone ever involved in a “hostile” culture. The verbatims clearly show a culture that exists in the band and puts the isolated instances over many years into a context that is appropriate. The examples show individuals with questionable behaviors.

    I also appreciate the general context of the main report. Students being students caught between a new legal initiative and the common everyday pressures of life. A culture that plays Anaconda at a Victoria’s Secret sponsored freshman orientation and where drinking and jumping in a lake half nude are ok if you have a wristband. It defines a fall academic class paid for in individual tuition with required training in the summer and now forbids certain parties during winter quarter when no band exists and no class is taken. This 2 credit class requires upwards of 30 hrs per week and at times requires 24hr straight participation without a break. It still remains unclear how this correlates to an English or Math course.

    I think in fact had OSU written this report the first time, sat down with Mr. Waters, the band and the alumni and solicited help while offering resources, everyone at the table would have agreed and indeed moved forward.

    The band culture is anything but hostile. It like many large organizations does have individual problems that can and should be addressed. The person addressing it within the constraints defined by the university at the time of his employment need not have been ruined in the court of public opinion. Again, please read the appendix…

  13. The fact remains that, in spite of Mr Davey saying that changes need to be made in the culture of the Band, for anyone who actually reads the Report, it is the University that is most directly criticised for its complete failure to provide proper oversight and support for the Director of TBDBITL. To expect the Director almost single-handed lay to provide six or seven world class shows every year, manage the day to day running of the Band, and monitor and control all the antics of 225 college age students is simply ridiculous. The University has abjectly failed both the Director and the Band members by continually ignoring their needs, or else short-changing them on basic necessities such as medical care, proper training on compliance issues, and absurd time demands. Of course the Director can be faulted for some items, but these are all things that would have been avoided, had he been given resources appropriate to the responsibilities of his position. There is equally no doubt that he was clearly moving the Band in the very directions that the Montgomery Report recommends, and his firing was a gross over-reaction by the administration, carried out for cynical and calculated reasons that had nothing whatever to do with improving the culture of the Band.

  14. How could Waters have been moving the band in a better direction when he was aware of and allowing such lewd behavior in videos shown at Fesler night? I personally think the alumni org screwed themselves by providing so much coaching and influencing the survey results. If nothing is going on, what were they afraid would come out in the survey?

    The university fails to provide oversight on a number of things, and clearly this was one of them. But, the band definitely didn’t go looking for oversight lest they be caught or questioned. They’ve done these things for so long, they now believe them to be a-ok. They’ve lost their moral compass.

  15. So the band’s culture was “…partially a result of limited university oversight…” and “…the band has been isolated from routine university supervision for more than 50 years — part of the reason for limited oversight.” Therefore, the most recent director shall be the fall guy. This thing stinks worse for the administration and its “investigators” with every investigation.

  16. The report has several issues, but on the whole I found it to be reasonably fair. This may sound shocking to some if you’ve seen my comments here on other Lantern articles. I say to you, please go and read the actual report rather than the news coverage and spin around it. The task force report describes a strong healthy culture with some issues to work on. I’ve never disputed the band culture could be improved.

    What I have disputed is that the problems rose to the level of a hostile culture. And indeed, The task force DID NOT FIND a hostile culture of sexual harassment. The entire core of OSUs case against Waters is nowhere to be found in this report. THAT is the headline no one is reporting. Without that, there was never any reason to fire Waters.

    I have also disputed that Waters did nothing to improve the culture. He has done far more in two years than his predecessors did in decades. Indeed, many of the recommendations of this new report match up nicely with things Waters was already doing.

    It is my opinion that if this was OSU’s first report, they would never have had any justification, let alone any reason, to fire Jon Waters, and this entire mess would have been avoided.

  17. girl, I’ll tell you what we were afraid of. We were afraid that the truth would NOT come out. We were afraid that the second investigation would be another witch hunt, and therefore the questions asked would be “when did you stop beating your wife” questions. And therefore we wanted to remind students to keep on the big picture issues, and not let the investigators focus solely on the negative.

    There were early signs that this was the case. For example the link on osu.edu for gathering information initially only said to provide complaints. As another example, the survey of band members (included in the appendix of the task force report) does ask some questions that sound a lot like “when did you stop beating your wife”.

    So that’s the sort of thing we were afraid of.

    I think some of that bias still shows through in the report. But as I said above, I’m personally relieved to see that overall this report was much more fair and honest than the initial investigation.

  18. Perhaps the only positive thing coming out of this fiasco is that it is prompting discussion and thinking about some important issues. Other than that, I can think of no possible reason for the Trustees, the President, and others, to pursue this issue to the extent they are doing. I should make clear at this point, that I believe the University is in the wrong. Otherwise, they should disclose any further information, within actual legal and ethical constraints, that would help those of us outside of the University, to understand the actions that have been taken. It should go without saying, but unfortunately does not, that any inappropriate and, in some instances, illegal behavior will not be tolerated. But to indicate, as the report does, that the use of nicknames is unacceptable, should be an embarrassment to the Committee, its Chair, and the University. By the way, there are many faculty on campus, who know and understand what “culture” in an organization really means, and I would guess would have been more than willing to study this situation (assuming that a “situation” actually existed.) One of the things that has particularly struck me since the beginning of this “process,” is that there has been a constant reference to a “sexualized culture.” Now, there’s breaking news: college students are interested in sex! As far as the reports I’ve seen on this situation, were I still a faculty member grading an assignment, I would be somewhat lenient, and give this one a -C. (If I were still an active faculty member, and the writer of the study requested, I would be glad to re-read it, with the understanding that it might deserve a higher grade, or might deserve a lower grade.) At almost $900 an hour, I sincerely hope that OSU is not billed more than a total of a couple of hundred dollars, but I regretfully do not believe that will happen.

  19. “What I have disputed is that the problems rose to the level of a hostile culture. And indeed, The task force DID NOT FIND a hostile culture of sexual harassment. The entire core of OSUs case against Waters is nowhere to be found in this report. THAT is the headline no one is reporting. Without that, there was never any reason to fire Waters.” Thank you Thomas Fine.

    Agreed 100%. Shout it to the rooftops. How convenient that Mrs. Montgomery was told not to revisit Jon’s firing, because she would have to report that the entire core of OSU’s case was not found in her investigation. “Flawed” culture, not sexualized culture was her description, and how unspecific is that? President Drake should have taken the time to understand that the flaws could be corrected with the proper support, but then all those sexual assault/Title IX violations – none of which were about the Marching Band – would still be hanging over his head.

    Also, the TBDBITL Alumni did not coach or influence the letter writing. The WeStandWIthJonWaters website had suggestions for letters, if anyone was interested in including them. I guess Mrs. Montgomery didn’t like all those positive letters, since the interviewees answered specific questions, and were given a minute to say something positive about the Band or Jon. But the authors of letters could make as many positive comments as they wanted to. Feedback from many interviewees was that when asked what would help the band the most, the majority said reinstate Jon, which was conveniently not included in the report.

  20. Why pick on the band when it is the most impressive aspect of the entire university?!

    Most of what college kids do is a bit too sexualized and/or alcohol related or just plain juvenile. So what? If no one is getting hurt and the band is still performing excellently, let them be.

    And by the way, I quite possibly pay more in yearly tuition to OSU now than anyone — repeat anyone — does or ever has. So, I definitely want a quality education in a safe, respectable environment.

  21. I think many would dispute the interpretation of the report as not finding a hostile or sexualized culture. Seems pretty sexualized to me. I would not want my daughter participating. What is described is the definition of hazing. How can that be disputed?

  22. A hostile environment is not an “interpretation”. It’s a legal finding. If this investigation had found that a Title IX hostile environment existed they would have said that. Instead they said this:

    “virtually none of the current Band members felt that the environment of the Band was in any way hostile or harassing to women, minorities, or gays. Indeed, most current Band members feel quite the opposite: the Band is an organization that cares solely about musical talent, regardless of gender, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.”

    And this:

    “The success of the Band is undeniable. The Band, in many ways, has a culture of excellence, hard work, and esprit de corps, with many positive traditions that emphasize meritocracy, fair competition, student leadership, and community service, as well as a feeling of “belonging” that can be hard to achieve at a large university. Its commitment to excellence is apparent through its nationally-acclaimed halftime shows and other performances. In interviews with current and former members, it is clear that the Band is a true meritocracy. Members undergo a rigorous tryout process and those who succeed have a fundamental respect for one another as musicians and members of an elite team. Being chosen as a member of the Band is an accomplishment of which students should rightfully be proud.”

    Yes, there are caveats, and “although”s, and several issues that were found. But unlike the first report, those issues were not used to define the band culture. Again and again this report makes it clear that primarily the band culture is healthy, respectful, and safe.

  23. Vis a vis Waters, recall that the University gave two reasons for his firing, that he knew or should have known aboht various questionable practices, and that he was less than forthcoming in the jnvestigation. Both of these are reinforced by Montgomery, In several instances Waters stood by versions of incidents that were in direct kpposition to that reported by others. Documentation showed that he contested the report of campus police that there were multiple drunken students in the shoe when they were called in when a student was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning at Midnight Ramp in 2009. The police were there–Waters was not. Waters has claimed that he was directed by others to suspend the female student who had reported assault–apparently refusing to rescind this when the Compliance Office told him it could be viewed as retaliation. Investigators could find neither documentation nor admission of anyone but Waters having made that decision. And the new instance of assault that was reported to Waters–who claimed to the victim he reported it to the University who found insufficient evidence. Again–nothing exists to back this up and the alleged assailant returned to band. These things are serious and reveal a pattern. Yes–with better supervision there would have been earlier checks and students would know more about reporting. But it is also true that without the systemic dysfunctions Waters might never have moved up into the Director’s position to begin with.

  24. Mr. Box,

    OSU gave only one reason for his firing. The “knew or should have known” and did nothing to remedy it. Unforutnately we then found out that this “knew or should have known” was posturing, because he knew AND OSU knew there were issues. More importantly, his review described his efforts to remedy these issues as “courageous”.

    The later reason, that he was less than forthcoming, was added in when it became clear that their first reason was bogus. As far as being less than forthcoming – the University was less than forthcoming about the purpose of this series of meetings which he only later found out was a serious investigation. He was never “under oath”, and was offering contributions he thought were appropriate for the type of meetings he thought he was having.

    Of course since then, they’ve given yet a third reason, that he went renegade and tried to fix problems on his own (100% contradicting their original reason for firing him). Except again, they ignore the FACT that the university denied him the resources he needed to fix the problems in any other way besides on his own.

    Your account of the midnight ramp issue is equally false. Waters never made any such claim. He stated that no alcohol was served at the stadium. The task force report agrees with him on this issue.

    The 2013 athletic band case involved clear violations of band policy by both involved parties, and as such both had to be punished under band policy. OSU’s title IX policy supercedes this. So when things like “had to intervene” are said, it’s not sinister. They had to intervene to override band policies with theirs. Was he hesitant? If I were told by my superiors that I had to apply band policy in a discriminatory fashion (punishing one person but not another for the exact same infraction and the exact same evidence) I would absolutely want clarification from the university. Moreover I might insist that they formally intervene, to clarify that this discriminatory application of rules was them and not him. And should I remind you that DoE investigators criticized OSU university-wide for it’s poor documentation of incidents? The lack of documentation by others is not Waters’ fault.

    So yes, there is a serious pattern of behavior here – a pattern of behavior of you distorting or inventing facts to support a conclusion that (for anyone actually paying attention) is obviously unsupportable.

  25. The lack of outside documentation, coupled with Montgomery’s inability to find anyone in Athletics to back up Waters’ version certainly raises a question with regard to the veracity of Waters’ statements. My understanding is that the belief is not simply that there was a policy that Waters needed to follow, but that the particular sanction had been either ordered or signed off on by others.

    Further, the additional (3rd) incident was not addressed by Waters during the first investigation and he declined to be interviewed for the second. This does not aid in his establishing credibility.

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