COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An "undercurrent of inappropriate behavior" inside Ohio State University's celebrated marching band was fueled by a combination of societal pressures faced by students, unclear expectations set by band leaders and ineffective university oversight, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report was the result of a four-month review by a task force enlisted by the university in the wake of the controversial firing of band director Jonathan Waters over the summer.
Its investigation concluded the band's culture of excellence, hard work and positive traditions remains strong, while making 37 recommendations for improvements.
Former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who led the task force, said it recognized that band members are "newly-minted adults" on a college campus caught in the crosshairs of conflicting societal messages.
"While universities and the law have ramped up expectations regarding student behavior in the wake of hazing and sexual assaults across the country, popular culture seems to be going exactly the opposite way, moving in the opposite direction," Montgomery said. "And that collision is where this band is."
Her group's 92-page report, compiled after interviews with 185 individuals, including present and former band members, described hazing rituals and frequent alcohol use that were also cited in an internal investigative report from earlier this year that led to Waters' firing.
Among its recommendations were hiring a compliance officer; rewriting and clarifying certain band policies involving traditions; and instituting regular mandatory training.
Others include a ban on rookie tricks, rookie midterms and an explicit songbook, all of which had been cited in the investigation report that led to Director Waters' July 24 firing.
But Montgomery said during a news conference that the task force also recommended allowing many traditions to stand, with new safeguards to assure traditions like nicknames and humorous videos don't cross the line.
"We knew when we started that there were traditions that were vestigial," she said. "And we often told the students when we interviewed them, 'Look, there are so many wonderful traditions in this band, we want to make certain that we're engaged in outpatient surgery and not engaged in a massive operation that somehow destroys the culture of the band.'"
University President Michael Drake enlisted Montgomery's help in August as a follow-up to the school's own probe, which concluded Waters knew about, but failed to stop, a "sexualized culture" of rituals inside the band. The culture was deemed hostile to students.
Waters, whose halftime shows were considered revolutionary, has challenged the report's conclusions. He also sued for reinstatement in federal court on grounds he was discriminated against and denied a public name-clearing hearing.
Waters' attorney, David Axelrod, said he was gratified that Montgomery identified weaknesses in university oversight of the band. He said many of the changes recommended in the report were things Waters was already implementing at the time of his firing
Gary Leppla, legal counsel to the TBDBITL Alumni Club, named for the band known to fans as The Best Damn Band in The Land, attended the event but was not admitted to Montgomery's news conference.
Afterward, he dismissed as "silly" allusions to his organization trying to interfere with the investigation. The report said the group advised alumni against participating in a survey they viewed as slanted and provided "talking points" for interviews.
"It's about the truth," Leppla said. "And nobody's alleging anything that was distributed or encouraged or shared by this club that got aggressive in defending the band was anything but the truth."
He said he's like to see band backers and the university move forward to a place of healing.
University spokesman Chris Davey said the school has already begun to take steps to improve band oversight, add training requirements and strengthen leadership.
"We take the report's conclusions very seriously, and the university will review the recommendations and take action," he said. "We will continue to make whatever changes are necessary to university oversight to ensure that the unacceptable cultural problems detailed in this report are simply not part of the future of our great band."