A string of emails from 2009 indicate that Ohio State officials might have known about the OSU Marching Band’s “Fesler Night and Midnight Ramp” tradition several years before Jonathan Waters became the band’s director.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis sent documentation of these emails to The Lantern Thursday morning. The emails detail correspondence between OSU Marching Band leadership, University Police and the Office of Student Judicial Affairs.
The emails address an alcohol-related incident that occurred the night of the Midnight Ramp event in 2009. The incident prompted police involvement and a meeting between the three departments to discuss the future of the tradition.
The documents also show that the band was given a key by stadium officials, granting them field access to Ohio Stadium after hours.
An OSU police captain acknowledged in one of the emails that, as a former night watch officer, he was “somewhat familiar” with some of the band’s traditions, including Midnight Ramp.
In another email, a then 27-year veteran of OSU police acknowledged that he also knew of the Midnight Ramp event.
“I knew of the tradition,” he wrote in an email to his police captain on Sept. 10, 2009. “However, it has never been an issue in the past years of alcohol abuse and we have always been notified in advance of the event. This year, we received no such notification …”
In the email, the officer also mentioned seeing evidence of alcohol consumption and made note of a “party atmosphere” at the stadium that night.
Several emails included in the documents, including one email from Waters–who was then serving as assistant director–argue against the officer’s claims, and say that no alcohol was present at the stadium.
“Please be aware that this tradition dates back to at least 1960,” Waters wrote in an email to Captain Eric Whiteside of the OSU police on Sept. 11, 2009. “It has nothing to do with alcohol, nor sneaking into the stadium.”
A member of the OSU marching band until 1999, Waters worked as a graduate assistant with the band until 2002, when he was hired as an assistant director. He acted as interim director following the retirement of director Jon Woods until 2012, when then-executive dean and vice provost of the College of Arts and Sciences Joseph Steinmetz announced Waters’ promotion to full director of the band in 2012.
In July, Waters was fired after a 23-page report from a two-month investigation determined the band’s culture was “an environment conducive to sexual harassment,” according to a released statement from President Michael Drake. It concluded that Waters was either aware of, or reasonably should have been aware of, the “sexual” culture, but didn’t do enough to address it or prevent it from happening. Midnight Ramp, a tradition during which students march into Ohio Stadium wearing only their underwear, was included in the report as one example of this “sexualized culture.”
According to the emails, current interim marching band director Russel Mikkelson and School of Music director Richard Blatti were aware of the marching band’s Midnight Ramp tradition.
In an Aug. 26, 2010 email to Woods, who at that time was serving as the OSU Marching Band’s director, Blatti recommended having marching band officials supervise Midnight Ramp.
“In meetings held last year … several precautions were recommended and agreed to,” Blatti wrote. “Dr. Woods and Dr. Waters must be present throughout the entire evening to provide oversight and insure the proper behavior and safety of the students. This duty must not be placed solely in the hands of a graduate assistant this year or ever again.”
In the same email, Blatti said he thought agreeing to add police presence to the event would also be a good idea.
“Last year, the OSU police offered to provide future assistance for Fesler Night,” he wrote. “I suggest that we do in fact take advantage of this offer for the safety and well being of our students, not to mention the liability of the faculty, School of Music, the College, and the University.”
David Axelrod, Waters’ attorney, said the emails show that OSU leadership had several years before Waters was director to make changes to the marching band’s culture and traditions.
“The emails go to show what we’ve said all along: OSU leadership knew about Midnight Ramp long before Jonathan Waters became band director, and must have thought it was fine, because they did nothing to discontinue it,” Axelrod said in an email to Lantern TV on Wednesday evening. “Music School leadership ordered Jonathan to participate in it. Clearly, Jonathan was made a scapegoat to help resolve OSU’s federal Title IX investigation.”
Mikkelson, Blatti and university officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.