Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bands On the Run: It's Now Ohio State's Turn

Jonathan Waters proclaimed he had “The Best Damn Job in the World” as Director of The Best Damn Band in the Land (TBDBITL). That is, until last Thursday when the President of The Ohio State University fired John Waters as Director of the Ohio State University Marching Band. Ohio State joins the recent Hall of Shame of college bands. Marching bands are engraved into the tradition of college football. They range from the traditional bands of the Big Ten to the rhythmic excellence of Florida A&M. Then there’s the Stanford Marching Band in a class of its own. It has variously been banned from the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame and Disneyland. The Stanford Indians/Tree/Cardinal hold nothing sacred. The University of California Davis Aggies, and the University of Wisconsin Badgers timed a simultaneous outrage in 2008. The Aggies Marching Band is a student organization – not a part of a school of music. It also has a history of public urination, dropping trou, alcohol, harassment, and hazing. The band’s director went on stress leave and filed a sexual harassment claim against the band in October 2008 for creating a “hostile work environment.” His timing was poor. His 15 minutes of fame was eclipsed two weeks later when the Director of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band suspended the band for the upcoming Ohio State football game. The Marching Badgers had a history of alcohol, harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior. The Wisconsin suspension was initiated upon the complaints of parents of two band members who objected to the alcohol thrust upon their freshmen children in the band. Florida A & M University, FAMU, experienced a tragedy in 2011. Robert Champion, a drum major, collapsed and died on a bus during hazing. 15 band members were charged with manslaughter. The band was suspended for 22 months. TBDMITL has a tradition spanning decades, probably over 50 years, of boorish behavior that may have been the norm into the 1960’s. “Boys will be boys.” The band admitted women in 1973, but the behavior continued. Women constitute 21% of the band membership, but the culture continues. Congress enacted Title 9, The Equal opportunity in Education Act of 1972, but the band’s behavior continued. The nation’s mores changed, but the band’s behavior continued. Sexual harassment is no longer tolerated, but the band’s behavior continued. Helicopter parents and videos are a constant today, but the band did not change. Boys can no longer be boys in the old sense. Jonathan Waters played sousaphone in the band from 1995-1999. He graduated in 2000 and served as a graduate assistant to the band from 2000-2002. He was named Assistant Director of Marching and Athletic bands in 2002 and promoted to Director in 2012 upon the resignation of his predecessor who led the band for 25 years. Jonathan initiated changes to the band. He started to rein in the band’s anti-social behavior. His big changes were in the programing. He initiated creative routines, which upheld the title of The Best Damn Band in the Land. Their Michael Jackson Moonwalk got national attention, followed by an incredible tribute to the Gettysburg Address. A parent complained about the sexualized culture of the band. The university’s Office of Compliance and Integrity conducted a two month investigation. It issued a 23 page report condemning the “sexualized” culture of the band, providing several examples. One was the “Flying 69 on tour busses” in which two band members hang from luggage racks posing in a 69 position. New members of the band received nicknames, often sexually explicit nicknames. A long standing tradition was the annual Midnight Ramp. Band members would parade down the ramp into Buckeye Stadium at midnight, wearing their pajamas, or more, or less. Participation was voluntary. Band members often had to change on the bus in the presence of the opposite sex. The marching band had an unofficial song book, consisting of misogynistic and sexual lyrics to other college fight songs. They then sang these songs on bus trips. I remember from my three years teaching in Ada, Ohio several Ohio State alums singing their obscene version of Michigan’s fight song, The Victors. The band had a culture of intimidation coupled, as might be expected by college students, with alcohol. The report found several problems with the leadership of Jonathan waters. He pled ignorance on occasion. He didn’t think some band activities were “that bad.” He had also started to clean up some of their antics. He also exercised bad judgment in some instances. For example, a female bank member claimed a male band member sexually assaulted her. Jonathan’s response, which was overturned by the University, was to suspend both for a week. The denials are not a viable defense for someone who’s been with the band for 18 years. Ohio State’s new president, Dr. Michael drake, had an easy decision. He was Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, which is not known as an athletic powerhouse. He came as an outsider who could bring a fresh perspective to the campus. The school was still reeling from the Jim Tressel – Tyrone Pryor debacle and had recently fired President Gordon Gee, who suffered from acute diarrhea of the mouth. President Drake could therefore establish first that he was the President of the Ohio State University. He calls the shots. Second, Ohio State is going to change its culture, even if it has to be dragged kicking and scheming into the 21st Century. Jonathan Waters was therefore thrown under the band bus. A non-scientific look at the letters to the editor responses indicates Ohio fans favor Mr. Waters rather than President Drake.

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