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Ohio State, fired band director Waters trade accusations

TNS Regional News • Aug 7, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Ohio State University and its ousted band director clashed in a series of public statements Tuesday, trading barbs over a school investigation of the marching band.

Meanwhile, Ohio State also hired three outside firms to start a broader inquiry of the band.

Jonathan Waters, who was fired on July 24 after the university reported a lewd culture in the band, appeared on two national television shows Tuesday to attack the investigation that led to his dismissal. He described it as a knee-jerk reaction and said it was flawed and inaccurate.

Within two hours of the broadcasts, Ohio State struck back with a page-long statement from spokesman Gary Lewis that was disbursed to media outlets across the country. Lewis said Waters was “ not forthcoming” with OSU officials on multiple occasions, and he questioned how hard Waters worked to change the band culture. That’s among the chief defenses Waters has provided.

“The former director has yet to produce any factual examples that demonstrate any tangible attempts to change the band culture,” Lewis wrote in the statement.

Lewis provided one example of dishonesty by Waters: After the ousted director said that he never yelled or cursed at students, a student provided an audio recording in which Waters shouts and swears at him.

Once the lawyer working for Waters returned from the talk shows Tuesday, he sent his own response. He pointed out that even the initial OSU investigation acknowledged that Waters tried to curb problems.

“The university found no tangible evidence of cultural change because it conveniently chose not to look,” Columbus lawyer David Axelrod wrote in a two-page statement. “Had the compliance office chosen to talk with a representative sample of students and alumni, rather than its handpicked, isolated sample, its conclusions would have been far different.”

Beyond the back-and-forth, Ohio State provided more details about why Waters alone was fired for a culture that school officials found was widespread. The initial OSU report said that there is a “ sexualized” culture in the band, marked by offensive rituals and pranks.

Any of those traditions would have been enough to fire Waters under university policy, university officials said. Ohio State rules require all employees to report within five workdays any information that “would lead a reasonable person to believe that sexual harassment has occurred.”

“The former band director did not notify university officials,” Lewis wrote. “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.”

Waters has said that he properly handled sexual-assault and harassment cases in Ohio State bands.

Since his firing, he has offered to help the university improve the culture if school leaders return him to his post. On Monday, though, Ohio State named two of its music professors as interim band leaders.

Also Tuesday, Ohio State announced that it is hiring three groups to work with former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery on a task force that will conduct a broader inquiry of the band. Montgomery is volunteering her time.

Ohio State will pay the Arent Fox law firm, David Vaughn Consulting Group and Ernst & Young to assess the culture in the band, review university oversight and give counsel on compliance with federal Title IX rules.

Ernst & Young will help collect data and measure change in the organization, Arent Fox has expertise in Title IX and civil-rights issues, and David Vaughn has helped other universities deal with crises, a spokeswoman for Montgomery said.

Early reports from OSU had said that the Sports Conflict Institute would assess the culture of the band, but OSU officials said yesterday that they have yet to choose a firm for that work.

The total cost of the work will be announced when the investigation ends, Lewis said. Ohio State will pay for the work from coffers that don’t include tuition or tax money, he said. Montgomery said in a statement that she plans to submit a report to OSU leaders by early October.

OSU President Dr. Michael V. Drake told Montgomery that the task force “will not be asked to reopen any aspect” of the initial investigation, according to a letter from Drake dated Monday. Montgomery wrote that she hopes to answer some “remaining questions,” but she did not elaborate.

Drake urged everyone at Ohio State to cooperate with the investigation.

“Incidents of harassment and hostility are not tolerated at this university,” he said, “and, in light of our recent investigation, we must do better to make our campus an open and welcoming environment for all students.”


By Collin Binkley - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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