Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dr. Patrick Herak

As a former member of the Ohio State University Marching Band and a three-time graduate of The Ohio State University, I wanted to share with you how embarrassed I was by the investigation that was released last week, both by some of the findings of the investigation as well as the unscientific manner under which the investigation was carried out. The two major claims of the investigation are the hostility of the OSUMB culture and Jon Waters’ failure to address these issues. I’ll address some of the issues in the order of the report.

Midnight Ramp
Midnight Ramp (MR) is a unique experience as it is the only opportunity for every current member of the marching band to march together; during a game day two alternates in each row do not march. It can be argued MR also gave students an opportunity to experience something quite scary—marching out of the tunnel in front of 110,000 people—in a less-threatening, more-relaxing environment. Given that participation is not forced and students are able to cover themselves to their level of comfort (e.g. pajamas rather than underwear), I have no problem with this event. The only potential concern I have is if students are completely naked, which I do not remember from my tenure in the marching band. Other students may feel uncomfortable seeing this, which would be unacceptable. Barring that, if MR is a problem, I am shocked that it took the university this long to address the concern. Even decades ago, scoreboards were on and even night-time security stood at the gates of the stadium.

During my tenure in the band, not every rookie was given a nickname and very, very few would be considered sexually explicit. If students were given sexually explicit nicknames and did not want them, this behavior is totally unacceptable. However, I have always found it disturbing when people trying to promote tolerance are at the same time intolerant of the choices made by the people they claim to be protecting. In the news the past few days, the band members dubbed “Joobs,” “Tulsa” and “Tiggles” have come out defending their nicknames as consensual and something that made them feel closer to the band family. It appears the investigators failed to follow-up with any of these students, but rather painted the broad-brush implication that they were all sexually harassed.

The other issue I have with the investigation is that it does not address the time frame of these nicknames. Without a time frame you cannot properly address the conclusions in the report. If these 24 nicknames were all given the same year, then the culture would certainly be VERY disturbing. If the nicknames were spread over an 18-year period, then it would appear these nicknames are either isolated exceptions or a sub-culture that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, if it is found that no students were given nicknames that made them feel uncomfortable in the past two years than Waters has made a positive impact. I do not have the answers to these questions, but they are questions that should have been asked.

As far as nicknames being published in the alumni directory and on the back of “row” T-shirts, in my experience this practice has always been voluntary and is not so different from filling out your complete name and a preferred name on a survey. Some members embraced their nickname so much that other band members did not know their actual name. These alumni wanted their nickname in the roster so their fellow alumni could find them.

My recollection of tricks in band was finding out some talents members could have that facilitated getting to know others. (“Oh, you’re the one that has the speech from the Millennium Force from memory,” for somebody that worked at Cedar Point.) Many of the tricks listed in the report are disturbing and vulgar. Even if they were consensual, that does not mean people want to watch these behaviors. However, I would also go back to context. Without a time frame of these behaviors it is difficult to ascertain if this is a broad cultural issue or isolated sub-culture. I have heard from some alumni that many of these date back to the early to mid-2000s suggesting that this issue may have been dealt with. However, the investigators were very incomplete in their research.

Rookie Introductions/ Rookie Midterms & Physical Challenges/ Trip Tic
My experience with these is very different than those described in the report. In fact, I am speechless with some of the behaviors described and appalled by the Rookie Test (Exhibit A). I believe there is no place for this. I remember Rookie Introductions as singing your high school fight song, to which the rest of the bus would often join in, and telling a joke. Midterms often consisted of marching band history (there is some of this in Exhibit A) and a Script Test (where you would have to complete a script chart with the required number of steps). In fact, I remember taking the script test in my later years in the band as well. Trip Tics often had some information about where we were going (much like a AAA Trip Tic) and a few jokes, but were never directed at individuals and nothing like in the report.

Regarding the investigation, buses have often been staffed by not only the three members of the OSUMB staff in the report, but also by members of the school of music (e.g. Richard Blatti and Russel Mikkelson). If this issue was so widespread, why are there no citations made in the report by Mr. Blatti? Furthermore, a documentary crew followed OSUMB for an the entire season (I believe the DVD release was entitled “The Pride of The Buckeyes”). Why have these journalists not been questioned, since they were not only there but impartial parties to the investigation? Once again the methods of this investigation are so poor it is impossible to conclude whether this is a broad cultural issue or an isolated sub-culture, nor to determine if things were improving under Waters.

As mentioned on many occasions, the song book was an underground publication by some band members. The song book was not endorsed by the OSUMB staff and, according to exhibit B, the last revision was 2006. I would argue the majority of the songs were outdated and never sung; if they were sung at all, it was certainly not in public. Moreover, a likely reason why the last revision was in 2006 was that the staff has clamped down. The other ignored fact is that many of the songs are more representative of a national band culture—you’ll find the same fight song lyrics sung around the country—and part of a national pop culture sung at piano bars around the country. I even heard one song sung by a British band on a bus in the UK. In other words, they are not unique to OSUMB.

In summary, I find some of the behaviors in the report unacceptable and hope they are isolated incidents and no longer occurring. I know many school districts in the area have training videos accompanied by quizzes for all their teachers in areas like safety, sexual harassment, tolerance, etc. I am amazed that a university of this size and resources has not implemented such a process for all students in groups that must be Title IX compliant.

However, I also find the investigation by the Office of University Compliance so poorly conducted that the conclusions reached are unjustified. Assumptions are made that students listed in the report were in a hostile environment, when the testimonies that have been released following the investigation state just the opposite. The sampling was not representative nor random, but rather focused on specific allegations and incidents that make it impossible to ascertain the overall culture of the band. In fact, the best tool for this Student Evaluation of Instructions (SEIs) were noticeably absent from the report. With no time frames, it is impossible to determine how things have changed under Waters. In fact, the report suggests he submitted a list of changes that he has implemented, but for some reason these are not included.

It appears to me the goal of the investigation was to find Waters guilty and not actually determine the general culture of the band or whether Waters has made strides in improving some of the issues described in the report. Furthermore, I believe by releasing the nicknames and “tricks” to the media, the University may have violated FERPA and perhaps Title IX. The students can easily be identified and no less than two female students have come out at feeling harassed because of the report.  Furthermore, by publicly releasing the contents of the songbook, now many OSU band members who never had access to the songbook (as well as high school students that look up the OSUMB) have access to every song.  This action is socially irresponsible.

The poor quality of the Office of University Compliance investigation and President Drake’s hasty and impulsive decision has arguably brought the public image of the university more harm and shame than the immature actions of some of the past band members.  I am saddened that the original recommendation, to keep Waters at the helm, was ignored as I think Waters was/is uniquely qualified to continue to improve the deficiencies in the band culture due to his experience as a member. I stand with Jon.

Thank you for your time,

Dr. Patrick Herak
OSUMB 1991-1995
B.S.E. 1996, M.S. 2001, PhD 2010

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