In this Oct. 8, 2011 file photo, Florida A&M Marching 100 Drum Major Robert Champion performs during a performance at halftime of the game against Howard University at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee. The university's president was given a no-confidence vote over his handling of the hazing death.
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Prosecutors File Hazing Charges in FAMU Band Member Death
There was no single blow, stomp or strike to Robert Champion's bruised and battered body that killed him as he was pummeled by fellow Florida A&M University marching band members during a hazing ritual aboard a charter bus last fall. Hear from the student's parents and law professor Tamara Lave.
The president of Florida A&M University vowed Thursday to remain on the job despite a no-confidence vote from school trustees over his handling of the hazing death of a drum major in its famed Marching 100 band.
The FAMU board voted 8 to 4 to approve the measure after criticizing university president James Ammons over a wide range of issues, including what it saw as a lax attitude toward hazing and management of the band prior to the death of Robert Champion.
But Ammons said he wants to fix the problems that have been identified in the last few months. This week Ammons recommended stringent new eligibility requirements for the band that has played at Super Bowls and inauguration ceremonies.
"This is my university," said Ammons, an alumnus of the school who became president in 2007. "Until the final bell rings I am going to serve as president of Florida A&M."
But trustees who voted against Ammons not only cited problems with hazing and The Marching 100, but also the fact that a top auditor at the university resigned last year after it was revealed that false audit summaries were presented to the board of trustees. The university is also struggling with financial woes because of state budget cuts and a likely decline in enrollment this fall.
"I do not have confidence in Dr. Ammons to lead us out of this crisis," trustee Bill Jennings said.
Narayan Persaud, the faculty member on the board, said he had concluded that the university was "caught in a wilderness of errors."
"How can we reclaim control of the dignity of this once prestigious university that has been pulled backwards and backwards?" Persaud said.
The school has been reeling since Champion's death. Eleven members of the band have been charged with felony hazing for allegedly beating him to death. The death exposed a wide culture of hazing at the school. Critics say Ammons and other administrators ignored it. Ammons suspended the band last November and last month announced the band would remain off the field for the coming school year.
Two professors in the music department resigned earlier this year following allegations they were present while band fraternity pledges were hazed. And last month university officials acknowledged 101 members on the 457-member marching band roster were not FAMU students. A separate criminal investigation into band finances is still ongoing, while the State University System of Florida is reviewing whether or not top university officials ignored past warnings about hazing.
Jennings made the no-confidence motion. He said that he did not actually vote to fire Ammons because he was unsure if there were enough votes to do that. Ammons, who signed a five-year contract extension last year, can only be fired by a two-thirds margin. The board has 13 members, but there is currently a vacancy.
Other trustees, however, said it wasn't the time to force Ammons out, citing a new anti-hazing plan that the president and his staff have drawn up that calls for spending more than $300,000 to beef up university staff and calls for new oversight of the music department and student organizations.
Spurgeon McWilliams said some of the blame for what happened with The Marching 100 belonged to longtime band director Julian White. Ammons tried to fire White, but then later placed him on administrative leave pending the criminal investigation into Champion's death. White resigned shortly after the university acknowledged there were members of the band who were not students.
"You don't look over Julian White's shoulder and assume he doesn't know what he's doing," McWilliams said.
McWilliams wondered aloud if other trustees were following a "downtown agenda," a reference to Gov. Rick Scott and the state board that oversees the university system. Scott called on the trustees to suspend Ammons late last year while the investigations were underway.
Tommy Mitchell, president of the FAMU National Alumni Association, blasted media coverage of the university and said that he and others would oppose "anyone messing with FAMU."
"I don't see why FAMU needs to be the poster child for hazing," Mitchell said.
But Champion family attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said it was time for Ammons to step down. He said the fact it took six months for Ammons to draw up an anti-hazing plan shows a "lack of commitment" to eradicating it.
Ammons became president following a budget scandal that threatened the school's accreditation. He said recently that the current crisis triggered by Champion's death marks the biggest challenge of his career.