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Ohio State Knew About Marching Band Hazing Decades Ago

The OSU marching band made a visit to the House chamber at the statehouse this week.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau

As the controversy over the firing of Ohio State University's marching band director continues, records indicate the university knew about hazing and questionable initiations as far back as 32 years, and a former music school official told former staff members to put an end to it.

When Ohio State fired marching band director Jon Waters in July, officials said he failed to stop hazing and sexual harassment within the band.  OSU’s investigation noted the "sexualized culture” was in place for years. Now OSU records indicate university officials knew of the band members’ hazing and initiation rituals in the early 1980’s.

In a letter dated December 2, 1982, a university official told then-associate band director Jon Woods to immediately stop the questionable behavior. Former school of music director David Meeker told Woods his office had been notified about "incidents" during a trip the band made to Illinois. The letter lacks specifics, but Meeker noted hazing violated the law and the student code of conduct.  WOSU obtained the letter though a public records request.

Meeker wrote that students should not be subjected to "abuse" to be a part of the band. And he was blunt, telling Woods he would "replace the band staff” if he got wind of similar incidents in the future. Woods was unavailable for comment because of an illness.

WOSU did speak to former band director Paul Droste, who is mentioned in the hazing letter to Woods.

"I would say we were a reactive staff at that time,” said Droste. He says he and Woods addressed any issues band members had, and specifically the hazing. "That language about firing the whole staff, that’s Dave Meeker. I think we addressed everything, hopefully, to his satisfaction because I don’t remember any follow up on any issue.”

There was no follow up about the 1982 incident in Woods’ personnel file, but in 1986, two years after Woods became head band director, Meeker again questioned behavior and traditions in the band. He admonished some band members who objected to sharing performance time with a dance group.

A summary of the meeting also indicates Meeker ordered band members to end "certain aspects of their traditions.” Meeker wrote the "traditions" must never be repeated again “in the history of the University.”  Meeker wrote Woods was committed ending the behavior.

The rest of Woods’ 450-page personnel file is filled with glowing praise for his teaching, performances and accomplishments.

Nonetheless, this summer’s university investigation indicated hazing and sexualized traditions continued throughout Woods’ tenure.  He retired in 2012 after directing the band for 28 years.  His successor, Jon Waters, claims he was trying to eliminate customs like marching in underwear and offensive nicknames when he was fired.

Waters’ supporters say the university has mischaracterized the band’s culture. Gary Leppla, who chairs the TBDBITL Alumni Club legal review committee, commended Meeker for trying to address the incidents that were brought to his attention.

"Clearly the university had an awareness of the issues, at least a couple of issues, that occurred during that time, and that’s good stuff,” said Leppla. But he denies a pervasive inappropriate culture.

"For the university or anybody to claim that that was an ongoing situation that extended into the 22 months that Jonathan Waters was director is the disconnect because it did not,” Leppla said.

Waters has filed a lawsuit against the university. He wants his job back and a million dollars.