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Jonathan Waters: Suing Ohio State isn’t about the money

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Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters reunites with band members after Skull Session preceding a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 27. A line of OSU band members lined up to hug Waters after the performance. Credit: Jon McAllister / Asst. photo editor

Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters reunites with band members after Skull Session preceding a game against Cincinnati on Sept. 27. A group of OSU band members lined up to hug Waters after the performance. Credit: Jon McAllister / Asst. photo editor

Ousted Ohio State band director Jonathan Waters said Sunday he isn’t in it for the cash.

In what could be his final effort at being reinstated after he was terminated July 24, Waters announced Friday he will sue the university and seek at least a $1 million payout.

But even though that figure is more than six times what Waters made annually as director, he said it’s not about the loot.

“There is no amount of money that would replace having my job back,” he said Sunday. 

The former director — who attended Saturday’s OSU-Cincinnati football game with his wife — said he expects to be reinstated, in addition to the $1 million in compensatory damages, if he wins a lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court. He also expects to collect punitive damages and attorney fees. 

Waters’ suit claims he was not given due process after an OSU investigative report released on July 24 said he was reasonably aware of or should have been aware of a sexually-fueled marching band culture and didn’t do enough to change it.

Former Ohio Attorney General and Board of Regents chancellor Jim Petro has signed onto Waters’ legal team to assist in the effort.

The lawsuit also claims Waters was discriminated against because he’s a man. A Friday release from his lawyer, David Axelrod, said OSU has allowed female employees “facing similar circumstances as Waters to continue in their jobs while correcting concerns identified.”

Since his dismissal, Waters and his attorney have made multiple public appearances and submitted a letter asking OSU to consider rehiring him. President Michael Drake and the Board of Trustees, however, have declined to reconsider his case.

The university has maintained a staunch position, saying it stands behind its decision to terminate Waters, despite fervent backlash from current band members and band alumni.

“Now that the former director has chosen to take his allegations to the legal system, however, Ohio State embraces the opportunity to respond to the baseless attacks of the past two months in a forum we know will vindicate the facts and the integrity underlying the University’s decisions,” a Friday release from the university stated. “The university stands ready to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

Since his termination, Waters has repeatedly maintained he was a scapegoat for the university and that it fired him unjustly after he had tried to make cultural reforms.

Waters said Sunday that even though there appears to be constant back-and-forth, he and the university are on the same team.

“I know that in the media this looks like one side versus the other,” he said. “I really want to continue to say that we all are on the same side here. We all want what is best for the band, the students, the alumni, the university at large. We all want the best for everyone.”

But in some ways it seems Waters might not actually be on the same side as OSU, considering Waters is personally suing Drake and Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz as well.

“I felt I had a wonderful relationship with the provost and with the administration prior to this event,” Waters said.

Part of Waters’ allegations rely on a recording of Drake and current student leaders of the marching band talking about the band culture. Axelrod said the recording contradicts many of the statements contained in the report that led to Waters’ firing.

That meeting between Drake and the band members took place Aug. 24. Waters said his legal team had no prior knowledge the meeting was to be recorded.

In the transcript of the recording, Drake talked about OSU’s investigation report as being largely “historical” and said that it doesn’t accurately reflect the culture of the current band.

In one instance, the student in the recording said, “And I can’t move forward, and other people can’t move forward, and we can’t move forward as a group knowing that we would be moving forward on the basis of this false report.”

According to the transcript, Drake responded, “I believe the report was overwhelmingly about people I’ve never met, and that you’ve probably never met, in times gone by. The overwhelming volume of this was historical information that was not relevant to you at all.”

A full copy of the recording is available at a Waters support website ran by band alumnus Doug Lape, who also spoke at the Friday press conference.

“We believe it is very important to be completely transparent,” he said.

However, OSU spokesman Chris Davey said in a Friday email that the recording wasn’t so innocuous.

“It is regrettable that Waters’ lawyers have chosen to misconstrue the president’s words from a private meeting to garner support for their meritless allegations and personal gain,” he said. “Dr. Drake proactively reached out to the student leaders of the newly constituted 2014 marching band to lift them up and move forward together as a community. He attempted to convey to them that the current student members of the band need not be defined by the culture and actions of the past, so in that sense, the investigation report was ‘historical’ to them.”

While Drake was not immediately made available to comment Saturday, Davey said he will work on setting up an interview.

As for being discriminated against based on sex, Axelrod said OSU is in violation of Title IX.

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.

Axelrod said the reference to a woman in a similar situation was former OSU head cheerleading coach Lenee Buchman.

Buchman was fired in November 2013 for “several serious lapses of judgment and leadership,” according to an email sent to Buchman by athletic director Gene Smith. In May of that same year, a sexual harassment investigation led to the termination of two assistant coaches, Dana Bumbrey and Eddie Hollins.

The university initially stood behind Buchman and she was given a 1 percent raise. However, Buchman later participated in a cheer camp run by Bumbrey, and allowed Hollins to attend an OSU cheer practice. After those details came to light and the original investigation became public, the university revisited its investigation and dismissed Buchman.

The university has said it plans on naming a new director by February. University Bands director Russel Mikkelson and associate director Scott Jones are serving as the interim directors until that permanent director is selected.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced after a compliance review of the university was concluded Sept. 11 that it will enter into an agreement with OSU to ensure proper Title IX obedience, according to a release.

In the release, the OCR agreed with the university that a “sexually hostile environment” within the band violated Title IX and praised the university for its handling of the situation.

OSU was one of 55 US colleges and universities being investigated by the department for its handling of sexual abuse complaints under Title IX. The review began in 2010 and was not complaint-based, the release said.

Despite the past two month’s progression of events, Waters maintains he never wanted to sue the university that he loves.

“I think all along we’ve said that we didn’t want it to get to this point. We just wanted an open and honest conversation and unfortunately we just didn’t get that and that’s why we had to take the next steps,” Waters said.

18 comments

  1. God bless him. Hope he wins big and all the band members can be vindicated.

  2. The strength and character of this man continues to leave me in awe. Can’t imagine what he’s going through and he’s still so devoted to his students. He truly loves them.

  3. I want the University I once loved back. The excellence and Leadership provided by Jon is invaluable and the University does this to him, the band, alumni and all of Ohio. It is wrong and should not be tolerated. This President and Administration need to go now. They are a disservice to all Ohioans.

  4. Jon is one the truest Buckeyes ever. The administration and board of trustees are not Buckeyes by any stretch. Jon cares about the students; the administration only pretends to care. I hope that Jon wins huge amounts of money AND gets his job back!

  5. Good Luck, Jon. I am behind you 100%. The University has backed you into this position and it is time to come out fighting. I want you reinstated to lead the band to continue its world class position at the school I have loved and supported for fifty years. I want you to win big against Drake, Steinmetz, and their cronies. Send Drake back to California where he is much better suited to run a regional campus.

  6. Over the past couple of weeks there have been several alerts about sexual assaults near and on campus, including at least two in dorms. Obviously, Mr Drake is not doing enough and he should be fired if operating under the same set of rules given to Mr Waters. Maybe the title ix investigators left too early as firing Mr Waters clearly has not corrected anything from a campus perspective. Someone was paid off to get rid of them. I hope Mr Waters nails their behinds…what a joke of an administration. Okay for them to accuse Waters of baseless accusations, but shen the shoe is on the other foot it doesn’t feel so good. They’ve been accusing the majority of the band for things that 99.9 percent of them, including Waters, had nothing to do with for months now. This university is a disgrace!

  7. I’d like to point something out to the author of this article: It is very possible for Waters to still be on the same side as Ohio State while suing the university. President Drake is not a Buckeye. He is a newly hired ego-maniacal outsider who makes poor decisions. While VP Steinmetz doesn’t get quite the same publicity as Drake, he is the true Judas here. That is NOT Ohio State. The Board of Trustees would be wise to fire them both, but at least this lawsuit will hopefully bring justice and let these two know that their leadership and behavior is unacceptable and is not appreciated by the Ohio State family.

  8. Isn’t it funny how NOW Pres. Drake is willing to give an interview. Just proved the point that this was necessary to force dialogue.
    And 1 million is barely enough to make OSU look their direction anyway.

  9. I hope he wins. They obviously defend themselves with the “we are ohio state and that’s all you need to know” defense. They don’t seem to care how stupid they look in the process. Looks like they are messing with a genuine Buckeye here.

  10. I think it needs to be emphasized that Waters clearly didn’t want to sue the university. What is so odd about this is that if the university was so sure of their report, why did they hire Betty Montgomery to do another one? Why didn’t they follow the legal process for terminating a state employee? If they had such faith in the report, why deny Waters due process within the university, before a board or committee of people that the university would have control (bias) with? Now, they must do it before an impartial judge in a federal (not even a state) court! There are so many layers of dumb going on that you can’t help but wonder what clowns are running this university? In terms of school leadership, at this point, the legitimacy of the report and the culture of the band become almost irrelevant because this has been handled THAT poorly by Ohio State.

  11. A web of contradictions. Can’t wait to see this play out in court. Would be happy about the lawsuit for that reason alone, to watch Waters get the additional humiliation he deserves for throwing this hissy fit. Man up and take some responsibility.
    Can’t be fully giddy, though, bc his actions and continued placement of himself in the media spotlight continues to tarnish the image of the band and prevent progress forward. The student in the interview with Drake was right– with Waters throwing a tantrum that shows no signs of ending, it’s very hard for the hardworking members of the band to move on. Really sad for them, about this fact. I know many band members support Waters, but they need to understand that Title-IX is non-negotiable… even if the person responsible for failure to comply is otherwise kind and very talented at their job.

  12. OSU has obviously hired another clown to occupy the President’s Office. Drake needs to go and Waters needs to return.

  13. Entertained – Please read the latest information. You are about six weeks behind. I recommend the website bandtruth.org or the many stories by Harrison Hove at NBC4 – http://www.nbc4i.com/story/26636191/former-tbdbitl-director-files-lawsuit-against-osu

  14. Buckeye in the West

    It did not have to come to this, but the OSU Administration gave Jon Waters no choice. There are so many flaws in the OSU “investigative report” it is unimaginable that it can stand the test of a law suit. Between the “truth tests” done by various media outlets, the OSU Band Alumni Report and the recoding the clearly indicates Dr. Drake saying the OSU “investigative report” was “historical in nature”, and pre-dates Jon Waters as director, as it does current band members.

    Jon Waters could have sued for much, much more in compensation, as well as other Constitutional right which were violated. He wants in say in court. He wants to clear his name, as well as thousands of current and former band members. He was the ability to cross examine the OSU administration. A right denied to him.

    The administration and Board of Trustees are painted into a corner right now. So far, if there is something more, the “smoking gun” has not been played; if there is one to be played at all. Right now, it is OSU’s interest to settle, make an apology and give Jon Waters his job back.

  15. The smoking gun has already been revealed.

    It’s in the deal between OSU and the OCR/DoE, which clearly uses the distorted band-culture issue and Jon’s firing as a cornerstone in an agreement that got OSU out of a 4-year, broader federal investigation.

    An investigation that had found 87 cases of mishandled sexual harassment/assault complaints across the whole university. Some of which may have touched on critical revenue-producing areas.

  16. Go Jon Waters…fight for the bands reputation to be restored. Glarros did some very poor research..not worthy of being published anywhere. The administration at OSU is an embarassment. TBDBITL stands proud!

  17. The only reason the U.S. DOE agreed with OSU is that they read the same flawed report OSU relied on to terminate Waters. The report does not accurately reflect the culture of the OSUMB, now or in the past.

  18. Glad to hear that Waters said that it isn’t about the money. That means, if what some people say that he is true to his word, that he might wish to donate the money (if he wins the law suit) to James Cancer Center at OSU. Let’s hear from him on that.

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