Ohio State did not offer former marching band director Jonathan Waters any severance following his termination, his attorney said, and Waters hasn’t decided whether to pursue legal action.
“We certainly don’t exclude taking legal action,” said Waters’ attorney David Axelrod.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday asking why no severance package was offered.
For now, Axelrod said, Waters has been meeting privately with his family, deciding what his next move is as he deals with the “shock” of his termination.
Axelrod said Waters was a “scapegoat” because the traditions that a university investigation found created a sexualized environment had been going on for years.
“These were entrenched practices that went on for decades before (Waters) became director, decades before he became a band member and decades before he was born,” Axelrod said.
Waters was fired last week after a two-month OSU investigation into a complaint from a band member’s parent found “serious cultural issues and an environment conducive to sexual harassment within the marching band,” according to an OSU statement. It was found that Waters was either aware of or reasonably should have been aware of that culture but did not do enough to address it.
A few examples of issues listed in the report include an annual band practice in Ohio Stadium that Waters attended where students were expected to march in only their underwear, sexually explicit nicknames that were given to new band members and a case where a female student was told to imitate a sexual act on laps of band members.
The OSU statement issued last week said former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery has been appointed to lead a task force that will further review the band’s culture. That task force will include representatives from Ernst & Young, which is set to conduct an investigatory review, the Sports Conflict Institute, which will conduct a separate independent review and “outside counsel” that will guide the task force on Title IX compliance.
Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that aims to protect against discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal funding.
Another part of the investigation looked at whether Waters was “sometimes abusive towards students.” The report cited two examples of Waters yelling and cursing at students, one of which was corroborated by multiple witnesses and another that was supported by an audio recording.
That audio was recorded in September by the student being yelled at, and was obtained by The Lantern Friday. It captures what sounds like Waters berating a band member and using expletives after what seems to have been a problem during practice.
Axelrod called the release of the audio recording a “cheap shot” and said it had “absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there’s a sexualized culture within the band.”
“There was no reason to release the audio other than to make Jon look bad,” Axelrod said.
Nearly two weeks before the investigation was released, however, Axelrod said Waters met with Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz. During that meeting, Waters was told to adapt a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and that there would be a cultural assessment of the band, which Axelrod said Waters was open to.
In addition, Axelrod said Waters showed an interest in a cultural assessment of the band a year ago, but the university never followed through.
“He said he would do anything that was asked of him. He would implement the zero-tolerance policy. He enthusiastically embraced a cultural assessment, both a year ago and two weeks ago, so he left that meeting thinking he was going to keep his job,” Axelrod said.
A week and a half later, though, Axelrod said Waters met with Steinmetz again and learned he was set to be fired if he didn’t resign. He chose not to.
“The next morning at 8:30 I was notified by university counsel that he had been fired,” Axelrod said.
Although Axelrod said he doesn’t know what Waters’ next step is, he said Waters will fight to clear his name.
“He had the most sterling of reputations and he wants it back,” Axelrod said. “He cannot let his beloved alma mater take away his good name.”
Waters made his first public statement following his termination on his Facebook page Monday, saying the recent events have been the most difficult in his life and have put tremendous stress on his family.
“It’s through your prayers and well wishes that we are sustained and strengthened,” Waters said.
Many opposed to OSU’s decision have taken to social media to create support pages for Waters.
As of Wednesday morning, more than $13,000 had been donated to Waters and his family through an online fundraising campaign. In addition, an online petition calling for Waters to get his job back had received more than 8,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening.
Waters was publicly discussing the band’s plans for the upcoming year as recently as two weeks ago. 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.
Lewis did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday asking about changes in the band’s schedule given Waters’ termination.
The marching band is still making appearances, however, including a performance Friday night with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra at Picnic with the Pops. OSU concert band director Russel Mikkelson and Columbus Symphony resident director Albert-George Schram conducted the band in Waters’ place.
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 Tuesday inquiring about its relationship with the band given Waters’ termination.
OSU said in a statement last week it is in the process of finding an interim band director and ultimately a permanent one.
Lewis did not respond to repeated emails regarding the search, including how soon an interim director will be named and how much the process of finding a new director will cost.
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