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Jon Waters to look for a new job, could be away from music

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Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters directs the alumni band during a Sept. 13 football game against Kent State. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters directs the alumni band during a Sept. 13 football game against Kent State.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

After nearly four months of vying for his job back, ousted Ohio State Marching Band director Jonathan Waters is starting to look beyond the university that fired him — something he said is one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever had to make. 

And although he has repeatedly said his only wish is to be reinstated to what was once his dream job, Waters said he’s being a realist and has recognized that his next move might not be in music.

“In my job, I needed to be creative and there are a lot of jobs that require creativity,” he said. “In my job, I was a logistics manager and there are a lot of jobs that I could get managing logistics.”

Waters also said he has thought about pursuing something that involves public speaking, inspiring students or bringing groups of people together and managing them — all skills he learned while at the helm of the marching band.

“I have to feed my family and to do that, I will do any job big or small,” he said.

Most jobs comparable to his former one at OSU are located out of state and would require his family to move — which he said has been weighing heavily on him in the past weeks.

“Our kids are 10, 9 and 7 ages respectively and they are very well established in school with their friends and their teachers. We are established with our friends and our family, with our support system — everything around us is rooted here in Central Ohio,” he said.

The former director also said the OSU investigation that led to his firing will make it challenging to get a job somewhere else. That investigation found that the band contained a sexualized culture that Waters was reasonably aware of, or should have been aware of, but didn’t do enough to stop.

And even though a second investigative report into the band’s culture released Tuesday found that a lack of university oversight helped create that culture, Waters said he’s not really sure if those findings will help clear his name.

He did say, however, that he’s happy the report complimented the marching band members’ hard work and that it gave a list of 37 recommendations for reforming the band’s culture. 

“I think they (the recommendations) are all well intentioned and well thought out and I endorse them,” he said.

A press release from Water’s lawyer issued Wednesday evening in response to the findings said the original investigation failed to acknowledge the fact that many of the band and School of Music staffs were aware of problems identified by the recent findings. 

“Jonathan Waters is the only person whom OSU made responsible for the allegedly widespread issues identified by the task force,” the release said.

That second investigation was led by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and found the band has been isolated from routine university supervision for more than 50 years — part of the reason for limited oversight.

Tensions between the School of Music and the marching band widened that gap, the investigation’s final report said. Personality conflicts, differences in the quality of facilities, concerns over funding and disparities between the School of Music, in particular, were mentioned.  

Montgomery’s task force was commissioned to conduct an assessment of the band’s culture, review university processes and oversight and provide counsel on Title IX compliance issues. Title IX states schools that receive federal funding can’t discriminate against people based on gender.

Even though the investigation found the band contains a “culture of excellence, hard work and esprit de corps,” the final report made recommendations to help correct some of the issues, including seeking to eliminate certain band traditions and create more effective oversight.

Moving forward, OSU plans to review the task force’s recommendations and take action, university spokesman Chris Davey said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Today’s report confirms that changes needed to be made within the band and its culture. We take the report’s conclusions very seriously,” he said.

Montgomery’s findings took about twice the time expected, based on the early October deadline given to her by OSU President Michael Drake.

She said part of the reason for the delay was because of the extensive interviews she and her team conducted for the investigation.

The task force interviewed 185 individuals — including current and former band members, staff and other “interested parties,” according to a Tuesday press release from the public relations firm representing Montgomery’s team.

The task force hired three outside firms to help in the investigation. At least two of those firms were paid a combined $885 an hour, and while the contract with one of those firms limited the total compensation to $49,000, the other agreement did not specify a limit.

Meanwhile, Waters — who is suing the university and some of its leaders — submitted new court filings this week saying OSU breached an implied contract by firing him, even though he was an at-will employee.

Waters’ move came about a month after OSU asked the court to dismiss his case because of his at-will status. It also said he knew of a problematic, sexually charged culture in the marching band and didn’t address the problems.

Waters is suing for a minimum of $1 million in compensatory damages, in addition to seeking punitive damages, attorney fees and reinstatement. His lawsuit says the university discriminated against him on the basis of gender and that OSU did not provide him with due process after the initial investigation into the band’s culture.

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.

Still, Waters has received wide support from current band members and band alumni. Some have contributed to a legal fund for Waters via an online fundraising website, while others have taken to social media saying they “stand with Jon.” 

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 U.S. 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.

Whether he’s reinstated or not, Waters said his next move will be one with his family at the center, regardless of whether he wins or loses the lawsuit.

“I’m just to the point where, unfortunately, Ohio State has time and money on their side and I’m just an individual person so I’ve got to support my family and I will do anything to do that,” he said.

20 comments

  1. An independent study found a “lack of university oversight.” In those situations, the blame goes to the lowest man on the totem pole, who happened in this case to be Jon Waters.

  2. The report looks much fairer than the first report. The people commissioned to do that first sleazy report should be fired, The people who authorized that report should be fired, the people who relied upon that report to fire Jon Waters should be fired, and the people who have tried to say “nothing to see here, lets move on”, and have cost one man his job and will cost the university millions of dollars in donations and judgments, should be fired.

    The president of the alumni association should be ashamed to have sullied his great name with his obvious pressure to conform to their bad decisions, the board of trustees and their minion, president Drake, should acknowledge their bad decision, apologize to the marching band, students, and the taxpayers of Ohio and the school alumni, try to rehire a great director, and either resign or be “tarred and feathered” on their way back to either Michigan or California.

    Ohio State University present management has made the university and it’s great band a laughingstock. Shame on them.

  3. As David Axelrod said,” Ohio State is pulling out all the stops “.Of course they are….they are spending incredible capital to defend their actions pertaining to Mr Waters and present and past band members.Why are they doing this…..because they all know what they did was wrong and the reputation and respect for my beloved university hang in the balance.The arrogance of Steinmetz,Wadsworth and Drake with assistance by Smith and Archie have led present students and alumni to a point of cowardly no return.I wish Axelrod,Jim Petro and others on the defense team the very best in salvaging something positive in this corrupt situation.

  4. Yes!!! Could this be the last column on this embarrassing situation? Could this be the last time I read comments from people blaming everyone else for a situation that was clearly mishandled? The “Leader” got caught not doing the right thing. Time to stop blaming the university, etc… It would be great if we could all just be responsible enough to do our own jobs and not blame someone else every time something goes wrong. Sounds a lot like elementary school kids tattling on each other. The “Leader” didn’t do the right thing. Always the “leader” that gets fired when things go wrong in every work place. I am just glad my daughter isn’t old enough to be under his supervision at the best university in the country! Let’s move on and cover some positive stories at OSU.

  5. This is heart-breaking. This man has been a great example of grace under pressure. He is a class act for sure.

  6. Anyone who actually reads Montgomery’s Task Force Report would NOT blame Jon Waters for what was going on in The OSUMB. Before you make a claim like like I would suggest that you read Mr. Waters comments found in the appendix of that report. A lot of insight will be gained when you combine that with Betty’s summation of the university’s role in this.

  7. Well, Classof1998, we are all so sorry that your perfect little world has been so rudely interrupted by people trying to correct an appalling and cynical tactic by the Universiy, that ended with a man’s career being ruined, and the unstinting hard work and dedication of thousands of current and former Band members being dragged through the mud. I am also sorry that you really don’t care about the rights and wrongs of a situation, just as long as you don’t have to bother to put any effort into understanding all sides of the issue. I am sure your contributions to your alma mater dwarfed that of the Band members, but when you can’t figure out who the actual “Leader” was in this situation, it leaves one wondering whether you got any education at all while you were at Ohio State? Just take comfort in the fact that this is not going away any time soon, so best stick your head back in the sand for the next few years until it finally dies down.

  8. As someone who actually read the Task Force’s report from cover to cover, I found these parts pretty powerful:

    “(The Band) Directors have largely abdicated responsibility for ensuring appropriate personal behavior of Band members.”

    “Leadership begins at the top of an organization. Strong standards have neither been enforced nor modeled, nor have Band members been appropriately disciplined for inappropriate behavior.”

    “(Mr. Waters’) aggressive defense of his Band ignores the reality of behaviors often exhibited by young college students and in so doing prevents modeling appropriate behavior and disciplining inappropriate behavior. While it may gain the loyalty of Band members, it ignores the responsibility that the Band Director has to his students, his Band, and to the University.”

  9. Lack of University oversight does not mean the director was helpless, off the hook, or unjustified for dismissal. Lack of University oversight means there were conditions that would allow inappropriate behavior to thrive in a manner that was undetected up the chain; That the University structure was not setup in a manner for the higher-ups to know the band director didn’t distance the group from inappropriate behavior resulting in it being eliminated from the culture. Since it has been established that Mr. Waters did know about the behaviors, I do not believe the finding of lack of University oversight helps his case.

    If it could be found that lack of University RESOURCES made it IMPOSSIBLE for the band director to do his job in this regard, I think that is a much stronger argument. While the report does say there needs to be more resources, I don’t think it is fair to say Mr. Waters was doing everything he could have done, and that was reasonable, to eliminate the unacceptable aspects of the culture.

    If it is true that more people in positions of responsibility, and action, knew about things and did not report, then we may not be done seeing dismissals or consequences. However, in a way, the lack of University oversight actually shields some of the higher-ups, because it says the system prevented them from knowing. The band director is still at fault if he knew and did not take all appropriate steps to eliminate, as well as other people above him that knew and did not take appropriate steps. Also the person/people that setup the oversight structure might be culpable (but that is harder to assign negligence).

    Unfortunately. I do not think it changes anything, and may strengthen the University’s position.

    Seeing that Mr. Waters is looking towards moving on is smart, healthy, and I hope people support him as a person, rather than defining him by the limited scope of one specific position at one specific place.

  10. Buckeye in the West

    Sad to see someone’s career end like this.

    Ohio State took a knew jerk reaction by firing Jon Waters, before a real in depth investigation was conducted. The original report was very flawed; the Montgomery report is far more balanced. Also, it seems, much, if not all, the ‘sexualized culture” issues have taken place for years and pre-date Jon Waters as director. Also, the infighting between the Music Department and the Athletic Department, over the band, did not help matters either.

    Jon Waters is smart to look at other options, because, if he were to return to his original capacity, the OSU “powers that be” would make his life miserable.

    But, I believe the law suit should go on. The Montgomery Report, coupled with the OSU Band Alumni Report paint a far different picture, than the Glaros Report. Within the administration, in order to be in Title IX compliance, they came up with goal; fire Jon Waters and this is how to do it. And if the courts find for Jon Waters, then us Alumni need to demand change in leadership of OSU; the President, the vice president, the Board, the compliance department, head of the Music Department, and the President of the Alumni Association; by forcing replacements. All these individuals were complicit in fostering the half truths and lies of the Galros Report.Not to mention, creating the situation of lack of institutional control.

    If this were the football team, and OSU was hit with lack of institutional control, for a similar situation, OSU would be joining Penn State in the penalty box. While the NCAA is seen as hypocritical, at least they enforce rules that the OSU administration believe that doe snot apply to them; in the area of ethics and morality.

    If nothing else, OSU is a very powerful force in Columbus; very powerful. Lesson learned from this is don’t mess with OSU.

  11. You mean he might be looking at jobs away from students after a sexual scandal?
    He’s done.
    Can’t wait for OSU to rake him across the coals.
    Don’t go the less expensive route and settle. Get an easy (expensive) win.

  12. Can’t wait for Ohio State to permanently get this stain out of our flag.
    Grow up and move on Waters. He is both an embarrassing and shameless alum. These supporters gave him the worst torture of all: false hope. OSU doesn’t want you. We don’t want you.
    Learn from your mistakes and good luck on finding a new hOme.

  13. Now that the word is out, every HR person in the Columbus area ought to be jumping on the chance to hire Jon Waters for a qualifying position. This could be the beginning of the end for OSU. They have the best man they could possibly find ready to reassume the job and, instead, they’re either looking for someone who’s foolish enough to want to work with drakebot or they have yet another crony to bring in and add to the corruption.

  14. Nobody seems to be able to see that had the Marching Band not operated effectively outside of the School of Music, being loosely coupled instead with the Athletic Department and getting special attention as a recruiting and fundraising tool, perhaps Mr. Waters might never have been moved into the position of Director to begin with. They might have followed routines involving a search outside the University, and Waters would have been up against some more experienced veterans.

  15. Oh I get it! OSU (or at least the president and board) doesn’t want a band of this caliber. Did anybody go to the Rutgers game on 10/18? If so, did anybody get a good look at their band? It was a pep band that consisted of roughly 40 people that never left the stands.

    Let’s get behind Waters. Should he not succeed, congratulations, Dr. Drake. I hope you’re happy.

  16. Dr. Richard Reuning

    The lack of reasonable, effective, balanced and collaborative decision making by OSU administrators in this sad affair is appalling.

  17. OutoftheBox – Waters was appointed directly by Gordon Gee, once the video game show had become such a sensation around the world. Nothing you porpose would have been any different once Gee stepped in.

  18. MsOSU – Actually, based on Business Insider’s survey, about 90% of people want him. Welcome to the 10% of losers.

  19. As a band alum (that does not live anywhere near Columbus), I find this whole situation to be terrible in just about every way. Yes, the administration has done a poor job handling just about everything that has to do with the marching band. Yes, the athletic department has a hand in it all as well. Yes, the School of Music didn’t know what they were doing, and have remained strangely silent. Yes, the marching band probably does need to have some “tweeking” this day in age as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. Yes, Jon Waters probably let some things go that did cost him his job, but it is more than evident that he was taking the band down a better path and has been made the scapegoat for the director that really let the band get out of hand in the recent years…….. Jon Woods. I have no dislike for Dr. Woods at all but let’s be honest here, the last 6 years of his tenure he was not the man he was 25 years ago and the vast majority of the items being reported on took place during his time as head director (leaving many things out of Jon Waters’ control). I would just like to see more of the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

  20. 1. To John Sheridan. Many colleges bring smaller bands on road trips. If the school cannot afford (or doesn’t want to pay) for the entire band to come, this is a compromise. Also, if the band cannot adequately supervise students on road trips, I think this is the right approach. If the band director cannot control excessive drinking or cannot arrange for a place for students to change (other than in presence of students of the other sex), this makes sense to me. When schools do not bring bands to away games (or bring small bands), it is traditional for a gracious host to do a routine for the opposite school. In fact, In 1927, the Michigan Band created the first “Script Ohio”—predating a similar formation now made famous by the OSU Band (although It should be noted, that the Michigan Band only formed a cursive “Ohio,” and did not spell it out letter by letter in the style of the Ohio State Marching Band).

    2. RL – I seriously doubt any HR person is looking for an employee who doesn’t address the issues in the band, who keeps a calendar with inappropriate pictures (and so what if it was 7 years old, who would keep it in their office) or who sues an employee after signing an at-will contract. Maybe one of the powerful band alumns, but time will tell.

    3. As to the band not having adequate supervision, did Waters fight whenever supervision was attempted. Did he not argue with the Campus Police (in emails) when they criticized the Midnight Ramp? When he was first told to go to Sexual Harassment training, did he ignore it?

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