Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Band behaving badly

Ohio State leaders evidently need to exert greater institutional control over this program


‘‍Script Ohio’ has been a tradition at Ohio State University football games for years. But other traditions of a sexual nature are unacceptable.


OHIO State University had no choice but to fire the director of its celebrated marching band because of his failure to address the sexualized shenanigans of many of its musicians. OSU evidently needs to exert greater institutional control of the program.

Jon Waters was fired last week after a university investigation identified a deep-rooted culture of sexual harassment within the band. The investigation concluded that Mr. Waters ignored the sexualized culture, which included an annual event in which band members marched into Ohio Stadium at night, nude or wearing only underwear.

The culture also included underage drinking, sexually explicit nicknames, secrecy oaths taken to conceal the objectionable traditions and customs, and degrading hazing such as teasing of band members about their sexual exploits, according to the review.

The report that followed a two-month inquiry concluded that Mr. Waters, an Elmore native, knew or should have known of the hostile environment. It conceded that many of the traditions predated Mr. Waters’ two-year tenure as director.

But Mr. Waters had risen through the ranks of the self-proclaimed “best damn band in the land,” beginning as a student in 1995. He likely had more knowledge of the deep-seated misconduct than an outsider would.

Shown the report last Wednesday, Mr. Waters refused to resign; he was fired the following day. His attorney said Mr. Waters disputes much of the report and plans to fight to clear his name. He might want to reconsider.

Even if he did not condone the lewd behavior of the band, his inaction implied acquiescence when he needed to condemn the misconduct publicly and assure parents and university officials that the behavior would end.

Mr. Waters’ lawyer said that his client met with the university’s provost this month, agreed to a zero-tolerance policy and a cultural assessment of the band, and believed his job was secure. University officials would appropriately have been criticized if that had been all they did.

In recent years, OSU has been penalized for failing to control its athletic coaches and teams. Former head football coach Jim Tressel resigned amid allegations that he tried to hush up improper sales of team memorabilia by athletes. A cheerleading coach and two assistants were fired amid accusations of sexual harassment.

The university has named Betty Montgomery, a former Ohio attorney general, to perform an independent investigation of the band scandal. It also is forming a task force that will study how to reverse the band’s culture of sexual harassment and other objectionable traditions.

The university’s new president, Michael Drake, displayed authoritative, no-nonsense leadership by firing Mr. Waters. Now he must commit to enforcing new policies for the band once the studies are completed.

Some students might have wanted to banish the band-geek stereotype by participating in such crass behavior. Some of the sexualized practices appear to have been long-standing “traditions.”

But tradition alone does not justify bad behavior; someone had to stand up and be an adult. Because the band director evidently failed to do so, university administrators intervened properly.

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