Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters directs the alumni band during a Sept. 13 football game against Kent State. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters directs the alumni band during a Sept. 13 football game against Kent State.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

After nearly four months of vying for his job back, ousted Ohio State Marching Band director Jonathan Waters is starting to look beyond the university that fired him — something he said is one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever had to make. 

And although he has repeatedly said his only wish is to be reinstated to what was once his dream job, Waters said he’s being a realist and has recognized that his next move might not be in music.

“In my job, I needed to be creative and there are a lot of jobs that require creativity,” he said. “In my job, I was a logistics manager and there are a lot of jobs that I could get managing logistics.”

Waters also said he has thought about pursuing something that involves public speaking, inspiring students or bringing groups of people together and managing them — all skills he learned while at the helm of the marching band.

“I have to feed my family and to do that, I will do any job big or small,” he said.

Most jobs comparable to his former one at OSU are located out of state and would require his family to move — which he said has been weighing heavily on him in the past weeks.

“Our kids are 10, 9 and 7 ages respectively and they are very well established in school with their friends and their teachers. We are established with our friends and our family, with our support system — everything around us is rooted here in Central Ohio,” he said.

The former director also said the OSU investigation that led to his firing will make it challenging to get a job somewhere else. That investigation found that the band contained a sexualized culture that Waters was reasonably aware of, or should have been aware of, but didn’t do enough to stop.

And even though a second investigative report into the band’s culture released Tuesday found that a lack of university oversight helped create that culture, Waters said he’s not really sure if those findings will help clear his name.

He did say, however, that he’s happy the report complimented the marching band members’ hard work and that it gave a list of 37 recommendations for reforming the band’s culture. 

“I think they (the recommendations) are all well intentioned and well thought out and I endorse them,” he said.

A press release from Water’s lawyer issued Wednesday evening in response to the findings said the original investigation failed to acknowledge the fact that many of the band and School of Music staffs were aware of problems identified by the recent findings. 

“Jonathan Waters is the only person whom OSU made responsible for the allegedly widespread issues identified by the task force,” the release said.

That second 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 recommendations to help correct some of the issues, including seeking to eliminate certain band traditions and create more effective oversight.

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.

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.

Still, Waters has received wide support from current band members and band alumni. Some have contributed to a legal fund for Waters via an online fundraising website, while others have taken to social media saying they “stand with Jon.” 

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.

Whether he’s reinstated or not, Waters said his next move will be one with his family at the center, regardless of whether he wins or loses the lawsuit.

“I’m just to the point where, unfortunately, Ohio State has time and money on their side and I’m just an individual person so I’ve got to support my family and I will do anything to do that,” he said.