Feds end Ohio State inquiry, applaud band inquiry

AP News
|
Posted: Sep 11, 2014 5:46 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Just weeks after Ohio State University fired the director of its celebrated marching band for failing to address a "sexualized culture" within the group, the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday announced it was closing a four-year investigation into the university's handling of sexual abuse allegations.

The agency said Ohio State's investigation into the band set important expectations for "a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety."

"I applaud Ohio State for taking strong leadership now to eradicate a culture of silence related to sexual harassment," Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

As part of an agreement ending the federal inquiry, Ohio State agreed to revise certain policies and review the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints since the 2011-12 school year.

Ohio State was among 55 colleges and universities revealed in May as being under investigation by the department to see whether the schools were complying with Title IX provisions regulating institutions' handling of sexual violence.

The government says the Ohio State investigation was proactive and not related to any specific complaints.

Title IX is the same law that guarantees girls and women equal access to sports, but it has increasingly been used by sexual abuse victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

The government said Ohio State demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment, while identifying some problems.

While most students interviewed for the review said the university took sexual harassment seriously, there was "substantial confusion" among students, including resident advisers, on how and where to report sexual harassment or assaults, according to the government's review.

Many of 87 sexual harassment files reviewed by the government contained illegible handwritten notes by investigators that made it difficult to determine whether the university took any action, the government said.

The university is pleased with the review and remains committed "to supporting an environment that is free from sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and discrimination," said Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey.

A two-month university investigation concluded marching band director Jonathan Waters knew about and failed to stop sexualized rituals including students marching partially-clad, playing groping games on buses and awarding sometimes explicit nicknames based on silly performances mimicking sex toys, orgasms or body parts. He was fired July 24.

Waters' supporters have lobbied intensely for his reinstatement, arguing he's been scapegoated by the university and was working to improve the culture inside the band.

The review didn't scrutinize the methodology or fairness of the university's actions against Waters, but simply assumed they were accurate and proceeded on that assumption, his lawyer said Thursday afternoon.

"It also appears to support what we've expected all along: that the university rushed to judgment to appease the Department of Education," attorney David Axelrod said.

The university denies Waters' firing had anything to do with the four-year-old federal investigation.

Several students have come forward to say Ohio State's report misrepresented, distorted or inaccurately characterized their comments. An Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on their allegations.

The university has defended the document and repeatedly stood by the firing amid a torrent of pushback from band alumni and Waters' legal team. The university's board of trustees has also said it will not revisit the issue.

The government also included in its review Ohio State's 2013 handling of sexual harassment allegations against cheerleading coaches. The university fired its head cheerleading coach and two assistant coaches last year over the allegations.

___

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

___

Associated Press Writer Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.