CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio State University band leader who was fired for failing to stamp out sexual harassment defended his tenure on Thursday, saying he pushed to change the marching band’s decades-old, quasi-military culture of hazing rituals.
The university terminated Jonathan Waters last week after 20 months on the job and released a 92-page report detailing a “sexualized culture” including simulated sex acts for initiates and band practices in underwear.
Waters’ lawyer David Axelrod made public a letter the band director sent to university authorities during their two-month investigation. Axelrod said Waters wanted to set the record straight and would not say whether he would sue to be reinstated with the 135-year-old band.
In the letter, Waters detailed his drive to change what he described as “the negative culture” within the 225-member brass and percussion band, known as “The Best Damn Band in the Land” and admired for complex formations on the field depicting a running horse or a dancing Michael Jackson.
The band’s decades-long traditions made change difficult, Waters said in the letter.
Waters said he was attempting to eliminate what he called a caste system that required rookies to buy food for older band members and wait for senior class members to board the bus first.
Waters wrote that he instituted retreats and training regarding hazing, gender equity, sexual harassment and assault and eliminated the use of foul language, inappropriate movies and vulgar songs on bus trips.
The band’s alumni club and other supporters have called for his reinstatement. The alumni club, in a letter on its website, claimed that school officials only interviewed a handful of current band members for their report.
Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Grant McCool