Even Popular People Make Mistakes

official photo of Former Ohio State University Marching Band Director Jon Waters
Former Ohio State University Marching Band Director Jon Waters

Two recent news stories illustrated what happens when people who have gained some popularity either nationally or in their community make a poor choice. Supporters of that person bring in a lot of emotion and defensiveness with the intent of protecting their ‘hero’. It might not seem fair, but we must not base our judgement just on personal experiences with the person but on the facts and evidence that are revealed. A higher standard of behavior is required if the popular person deals with students.

On July 24th, The Ohio State University fired their Marching band director Jon Waters for not doing enough to change a culture that was “sexualized”. Basically he was fired for dragging his feet when sexual assaults and harassment were reported to him and didn’t do enough to end suspect practices like Midnight Ramp and vulgar activities during band trips.

From the University’s report:

“There are two prior incidents relevant to his report. First, in the Fall of 2013, a Marching Band member sexually assaulted a fellow Band member, leading to the former student’s expulsion following an investigation and adjudication by Student Conduct at that time. Second, an incident of sexual harassment by an athletic Band member of a fellow Athletic Band member occurred in March 2013. Significant concerns were raised at the time about the manner in which Waters responded to the March 2013 incident. Both Legal Affairs and this Office had to intervene with Waters to ensure Waters reverse a decision that, if not corrected, would have led to a possible violation of Title IX. Specifically, a female Band member alleged sexual harassment by a male Band member, and Waters initially decided that both individuals would be excluded from the next Band trip. As this decision could have been construed as retaliation against a student for raising a Title IX complaint, Waters was advised that the female student must be allowed to take part in the trip. Both Legal Affairs and the Title IX Coordinator then offered additional consultation, training, and resources to the Band. An in-person meeting was held with Waters to discuss Title IX issues, and additional trainings were recommended. Although he agreed at the time, Waters made no effort to schedule any training until after a sexual assault in Fall 2013, when the Title IX Coordinator again stated that such training was required.”

Investigation Report released on July 24th 2014

As an expert in Federal Title IX law said about the firing:

“Once an institution becomes aware of an ongoing situation that involves a sexually hostile climate or sexually harassing behavior it has an obligation to step in and to do a number of things – and the most important is taking steps to stop what is going on,” [Erin Buzuvis, a professor at the Western New England School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies] said.

Waters was an employee and “if they are confident he is tolerating a sexually hostile environment and don’t take him out of the equation they risk the possibility of violating Title IX,” she said. “By changing leadership they are instituting changes in the culture of the band to protect students going forward.”

Ohio State University had to fire its band director or face lawsuits or federal sanctions, legal expert says

Ohio State is already under investigation for how it deals with reports about sexual assaults and harassment so any negative activity would be dealt with quickly and firmly so they can tell the government they are taking action.

This isn’t saying that Jon Waters isn’t a good person in general. He brought in a lot of new ideas that helped generate a lot of publicity for the band and school. He just appeared to the school leadership to be going too slow to address complaints about the band culture and a couple of instances he didn’t actually change anything until he was put under investigation.

As I had a boss tell me once – too little too late…

Read the full report with an open mind and you will see that the firing was appropriate according to the Federal rules.

If Waters does get his job back and it is made clear he will address problems right away then he should be welcomed back.

Another popular person who made a poor choice was a teacher in Hancock County Ohio who was caught on video putting her hands on an elementary student in a school hallway.

Kindergarten teacher Barbara Williams was suspended at the end of the school year after surveillance video was released showing her grab 6-year-old student Ian Nelson by his head and put him against a wall after a trip to the bathroom. Williams was later charged with a misdemeanor count of child endangering, to which she pleaded not guilty.

School board accepts resignation of Riverdale teacher charged with child endangering

Back when I was a kid, we had corporal punishment and sometimes teachers did grab a student and either scream at them or once in Junior High a teacher shoved a student against a locker for mouthing off in class.

Today, teachers are not allowed to put their hands on students and corporal punishment is illegal.

When I saw the video, here is the part where I thought she should lose her job:

screencapture of Hancock County Ohio Teacher roughing up a student
Hancock County Ohio Teacher roughing up a student

I am pretty sure the woman is a decent person in general but she went over the line by roughing up a child. She made a poor choice. She needed to lose her job and unfortunately because it involved a child she might not be able to teach again.

I know people want to give these popular people the benefit of the doubt but when the person is a public figure or works for the government, they should be held to a higher standard. When the poor choices involves a student then the person needs to be removed as soon as possible.

A similar reaction happens when the person in trouble is said to be religious or specifically “a good Christian”. Someone’s religion can’t trump evidence or discovered facts.

Supporters tend to be aggressive in their support including discounting discovered facts (like an investigative report or a video) and I totally get that. People do that because they don’t want to question their support of the person in trouble. Supporters might feel that if they don’t support the person then it might make them look bad.

The reality is no one is perfect. We make mistakes and we should let the process play out as far as it goes. The teacher might find work again or the band director might get his job back. Whatever happens we can’t ignore the facts or evidence of the case because it doesn’t match our own personal experience with that person.

This type of blindness happens way too often and it bothers me that people accept it as normal.