Though Ohio State has not explicitly said whether it’s considered rehiring former marching band director Jonathan Waters, if he was rehired, it wouldn’t be the first time President Michael Drake reversed a high-profile dismissal.
Waters was fired July 24 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.
Since then, many OSU Marching Band members, alumni, parents and fans have spoken out about their disagreement with the decision to fire Waters, taking to social media, writing letters to The Lantern’s editor and making signs stating that they “stand with Jon.”
Drake has largely been the face of OSU’s side in the matter. The day Waters was fired, he released a statement and an approximately three-minute long video about the investigation’s findings and the decision to terminate Waters. Because of this, some arguing for Waters to be rehired have addressed their opinions to him.
It’s a situation he’s likely familiar with.
In 2007, when Drake was the chancellor at University of California Irvine, Duke Law School professor Erwin Chemerinsky was hired to be the founding dean of UC Irvine’s law school. But a week after Chemerinsky signed his contract, Drake rescinded the offer. The reason why was never clearly stated, though it seems from multiple reports that it might have had to do with Chemerinsky’s liberal leanings.
Six days later, Chemerinsky was hired again after a wave of backlash that included editorials in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The response was not entirely different from the backlash over Waters’ firing.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis did not provide comment about whether the 2007 case has been discussed in dealing with the current one, or if there has been any consideration given to rehiring Waters. In an Aug. 5 email, he noted the announcement of two interim leaders and said “the university’s focus is forward-looking and on supporting our students as we prepare for another academic year.”
Chemerinsky did not respond to emails requesting comment on the current situation at OSU in light of his experience.
But some OSU officials have voiced their support for Waters’ dismissal.
“I unequivocally support the decision to terminate the former marching band director and the measures taken to ensure that the culture of the marching band aligns with our institutional values,” said OSU Board of Trustees Chair Jeffrey Wadsworth in a statement sent to The Lantern on Aug. 4.
Archie Griffin, the alumni relations senior vice president and president and CEO of the OSU Alumni Association said he, too, supports the decision.
“Our surest path forward in resetting the culture of the band while continuing its tradition of excellence is through pursuing clear, values-based decisions that support our students,” Griffin’s statement, also sent Aug. 4, said.
Meanwhile, Waters appeared on “Today” and “Good Morning America,” as well as local news channel ABC6, on Aug. 5 to talk about his desire to be rehired and his belief that OSU’s investigation was faulty. He said he was not given enough time to change the band culture because he had only held the role since 2012.
Then on Thursday, Waters didn’t explicitly say whether he might pursue legal action against OSU in an interview with The Lantern.
“I don’t want to have to sue the university that I love,” Waters said. “I don’t want to have to take legal action. What I want to do is clear the reputations of those students and of me and of the many alums who have come before.”
He said in the interview that he hasn’t had any communication with university officials since his termination, including any conversations about getting his job back.
Lewis said Monday that the university is working on providing the band leadership employment records, interim leadership salary information and further details regarding the search for a permanent director The Lantern has requested.
A second investigation, led by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and reporting to Drake and the Board of Trustees, is planned to be completed by early October. It will assess the band culture, review OSU administrative processes and oversight and counsel the university on Title IX compliance issues.
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.
When NBC4 approached Drake with marching band-related questions over the weekend at fundraising bike-ride Pelotonia, Drake didn’t comment about whether administrators previously knew about some of the band’s traditions — as Waters has claimed — except to say officials are awaiting Montgomery’s findings.
“We’re going to wait for her information until we make a judgment. That’s why we brought her and the task (force) together,” he said.
Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies and a founder of the Title IX Blog, told cleveland.com OSU likely had to fire Waters from a legal standpoint. But she added it was still a bold measure to take.
“I have enough examples of schools trying to bury those stories and this is a good example of a school being proactive,” she said. “It did take a lot from Ohio State to air this and get it out there to show anyone who is watching they are doing the right thing and will not tolerate it.”
For now, OSU named two interim directors for the 2014-15 season. University Bands director Russel Mikkelson and associate director Scott Jones will lead the band until a permanent director is chosen.