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Former Ohio State marching band director Jon Waters had excellent performance reviews

A closer look into Jon Waters' file at Ohio State shows that many thought he was an excellent director -- although that doesn't make him untouchable.

Jon Waters' short but noteworthy tenure as Ohio State's marching band director is one that's heralded by virtually all of his supporters. It's even one his supervisor went as far as to hold in consistently high regards over consecutive performance reviews. In documents obtained by Land-Grant Holy Land, Waters' on the field performance is nearly universally lauded, and any or all critiques of some of the issues which ultimately led to his termination are all but absent.

Waters' most recent contract laid out the specific objectives for Waters, amongst them to "instill in the students the highest standard for their personal conduct, on and off the field, and in their interactions with internal and external constituencies." While the university's report against him paints one picture and his near constant PR appearances since have told another, regardless of where the truth actually lies, Waters may not have much legal ground to stand on.

Waters' contract specifically mentions that he is an "unclassified employee," and thus not subject to Ohio Revised Code section 124.34. This could be one of the reasons why Waters has not yet filed a lawsuit contesting his dismissal, and why his options to do so are potentially limited.

The Director of the School of Music at The Ohio State University, Richard L Blatti, conducted two performance reviews of Waters during his tenure. The most recent, spanning Apr. 1, 2013 to Mar. 31, 2014. grades Waters as "Exceeds Expectations", the second highest ranking, in every category, and even went as far as to giving him an overall "Exceptional" ranking. The review concludes with "I am proud of the changes Jon has made in the way the OSUMB and Athletic Bands operate and look forward to an even healthier environment for our students than ever before."

Waters was rated as "Exceptional" for his Leadership, with only the following mentioned as an "Area for growth or improvement:

Some concern has been raised that each and every member of the leadership team carry his/her share of the load. Performance reviews for the year are in process and will hopefully address some of these concerns".

There were no references to concerns about culture in this section.

Perhaps notably, Waters was also rated as "Exceptional" under his "Change and Innovation" heading. Specifically, the review states that "This point is even more significant when one realizes how challenging it is to introduce any changes into the culture of the bands, particularly where the alumni are concerned." Waters' ability as a director was also praised, as the view states that "I may run out of superlatives to describe the 2013-2014 season."

Waters was rated as "Exceeds Expectations" in two categories, "Collaboration and Teamwork" and "Service-Orientation". Under his "Collaboration and Teamwork" review, it reads, "Jon is confronted with many years of "tradition"  and many well-meaning alumni whose proclivities and excesses will need constant by gradual attitude adjustment. Jon has already begun to address these predispositions and is courageous in tackling of of the more extreme views head-on".

There was also a document called "2014-2015 Performance Objectives", detailing what the university wanted Waters to focus on. These tasks included "Develop a hiring strategy for administrative support", "Manage expectations of various university entities requesting service from the Director" and "Manage professional staff for greater efficiency and delegation of specific assignments." There were no explicit references to anything regarding band culture, band traditions, or a welcoming environment.

Waters was also reviewed the previous year, where he was given an overall Exceeds Expectations rating. Waters was rated Exceptional for his Functional and Technical Skills, as well as his Innovation, while drawing Exceeds Expectations for Leadership, Collaboration and Teamwork,  and Service-Orientation.

The review is still overwhelmingly positive, while it is noted that Waters had room to grow in managing the nuts and bolts of a large marching band with numerous demands on his time and resources. It was also noted, however, that Waters had the tendency to "circle the wagons" and shift blame, particularly when unpopular decisions came from upper management, but it did not appear his supervisor thought this was a major concern. This review also mentioned how Waters was tackling some of the "more extreme views" of alumni "head on", and mentioned it as an example of effective behavior.

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In our reading of the rest of Waters' reviews, other specific references to concerns about band culture, traditions or of unsafe environments were not found. Nor were there any specific references to how Waters had handled any cases of sexual assault. Per Ohio State's report released when Waters was fired, a sexual assault occurred in the fall of 2013, and another in March of 2013, which would have fallen in Waters' performance window. Ohio State's report said that "Significant concerns were raised at the time about the manner in which Waters responded to the March 2013 incident", but there is nothing to indicate that on his performance review.

Granted, it is entirely possible that documentation that shows the degree to which the university was concerned about Waters and band culture exists outside of performance reviews. It is also true that given his contract, Waters' options may be limited.

Simply by parsing his evaluations though, it would appear that the university felt that Waters was doing a very good job, and there was little to think that Waters' supervisor was concerned about band culture. On the contrary, it specifically mentions how difficult it can be to manage change in the organization, and that Waters was challenging some views "head-on".

This may not paint the full picture, and since these performance reviews only run through Mar. 31, 2014, the fallout from Ohio State's report might not be reflected. But given how almost universally positive his evaluations were, it can be understood why Waters was not exactly thrilled with being let go and the way it went down, either.