When the Ohio State Board of Trustees met Friday morning, its purpose was to hear committee reports and approve decisions on its agenda. The proceedings, however, were largely overshadowed by people protesting the firing of marching band director Jonathan Waters.
In the hour before the meeting, band alumni and others met outside the Longaberger Alumni House. Many came with their instruments and sheet music, playing songs as a plane flew over bearing a “We Stand With Jon” banner.
Board meetings rarely become a media frenzy, but local television and radio news outlets came out to film the proceedings and document the actions of protesters.
The protesters’ presence did not go unacknowledged by the Board, and a representative of the supporters, Gary Leppla, was invited by the Board to speak for five minutes at the end of the meeting.
Leppla, a member of the Board of Governors for the TBDBITL Alumni Club, expressed concern about the university’s investigation into the band culture.
“What perfect storm led to these events that we could have never seen coming? What forces within the university? What departmental issues? We should explore that,” he said.
He further said he was shocked Waters’ character was questioned.
“(Waters is) one of the finest people most of us know,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that sometimes the tallest tree in the forest is the one that gets struck by lightning. Well, maybe that helps us understand what happened here.”
Waters was fired July 24 after a two-month investigation into the band found a culture conducive to sexual harassment. It was determined Waters was aware or reasonably should have been aware of that culture and did not do enough to change it. Though Waters asked to be reinstated, Board Chairman Jeffrey Wadsworth and President Michael Drake have said they will not consider rehiring him.
Leppla said videos of the protests were sent Friday morning to band members on the bus to the OSU vs. Navy football game in Baltimore Saturday. He was told there was an outbreak of cheers and tears as a result.
He also said he hopes the administration won’t ignore the call for reinvestigation by Waters’ supporters.
“We’ve never conceded that this discussion is over. We believe that it’s the early chapters of a book,” he said.
His remarks were followed by lengthy applause by members of the audience, and a few trustees even joined in.
After thanking Leppla, Wadsworth aimed to appease protesters by noting the continuing investigation by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.
OSU spokesman Gary Lewis, however, distributed a written statement from Wadsworth which made it clear the forum given was no indication that the Board would re-address Waters’ status.
“The university will not be reconsidering past decision regarding leadership of our world-class marching band,” his statement read. “We are mindful of the effect this transition is having on many current and former band members and supporters, and we are committed to working through this together as a community.”
The five-minute speech was not sufficient for some protesters, however, and Maryann Kimbro, who identified herself as a parent of a band alumnus, shouted at the trustees after the meeting was adjourned.
“Take two seconds to listen: I owe $80,000 to this university, and my son is humiliated to put his name as a band member on a resume … and the fact that you’re walking away is pitiful,” she said.
Along with his many supporters, Waters’ family was reportedly also in attendance.
Drake also gave his first presidential report to the trustees at the meeting, however, he didn’t address the marching band controversy or Waters’ firing. Instead, he talked at length about his many positive experiences since coming to Columbus, such as participating in Pelotonia and the Ohio State Fair.
Some Waters supporters did not hide their disdain for Drake, scoffing under their breath during his remarks.
Drake mostly watched the rest of the meeting, save for compliments he gave the OSU Wexner Medical Center. An ophthalmologist by trade, Drake praised the Medical Center for having an observed mortality rate of patients that was about one-third less than expected.
“That represents hundred of lives saved … really a remarkable achievement that makes a difference every day forever for those families,” he said.
The Board also heard a report on the status of construction projects at OSU. Most projects were considered to be safely on budget, though two were listed as being on-budget to-date but with concern. The North Campus Residential District project received this classification due to increased construction costs, and the East Regional Chilled Water Plant is also a cause for concern because of the increased price of the “distribution of mechanics,” said Finance Committee Chair Michael Gasser. Both are being “monitored closely, and contingency plans are in place,” he said.
The same report also heard testimony for a plan to educate people about pedestrian safety around the construction of the North Campus Residential District.
Timothy Smucker, chair of the Governance Committee, proposed and the Board approved a bonus for former Interim President Joseph Alutto of $187,500, which was about 30 percent of his base salary. Smucker said the bonus would not come from taxpayer or tuition dollars.
Earlier in the day, the Medical Center Board met to discuss the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, give expansion updates on the new hospital and to propose a new ambulatory care center location.
Board members opened the meeting by voting on approval for several patient care services, safety plans and clinical quality management across the Medical Center.
Dr. Steven Gabbe, senior vice president for health sciences, then presented an overview of the Medical Center budget plan.
The budget included plans for more surgical space in the new hospital as well as an increased number of beds available for patients, Gabbe said. He also said prices at the Medical Center wouldn’t increase for a third straight year.
The board took some time to congratulate Dr. Ali Rezai and Chad Bouton, a researcher at Battelle, for combining engineering and medical technology to allow a quadriplegic patient to flex his hand and finger muscles. Rezai and Bouton developed a microchip which communicated signals from the patient’s brain to his muscles. The Medical Center expects to see five total patients take part in this trial and hope to use similar technology on patients with strokes, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, Rezai said.
The meeting concluded with a proposal for an Upper Arlington ambulatory care center.