FAMU Board Considers Fallout from Hazing Death
The Florida A&M University board of trustees began wrestling Wednesday with how to contain the fallout of the death of a band member last year, considering a wide-ranging plan to combat a culture of hazing in the Marching 100 band and getting a look at the costs.
Headlining the recommendations is a plan to hire a special assistant to President James Ammons and a compliance officer for the historically black university’s music department. Both positions would be aimed at ensuring that hazing doesn’t again take hold in the band, which has been suspended through the 2012-13 school year, and that band members meet existing and new eligibility standards.
“You have my commitment to stay focused on this issue and put Florida A&M University in a leadership position nationally to deal with this issue, and once and for all eradicating this culture, this campus culture, at Florida A&M University of hazing,” Ammons told the board.
Hazing at A&M burst onto the scene when drum major Robert Champion, 26, was allegedly beaten to death in a ritual hazing on board a charter bus during a band trip to Orlando in November. Thirteen people have been charged in connection with the hazing, with 11 of them facing felony charges.
The plan discussed Wednesday would impose new requirements on band members, including ensuring that only full-time FAMU students are in the Marching 100 and other musical ensembles; allowing students only four years of eligibility and five years to use them, much like college football players; and strengthening the academic standards for remaining in the band and receiving a scholarship.
Ammons conceded that the changes could mean that, at least initially, the size of the band would shrink.
“I think it’s going to be smaller,” Ammons said. “But higher quality. … Because I have looked at the academic record of current band members, and many of them wouldn’t be in the band.”
Trustees seemed largely receptive to the plan, which is expected to be voted on Thursday. But they also mulled over the price tag, including a combined $196,000 expected to be paid to the special assistant and the compliance officer.
Ammons said he would push to ensure those positions were filled, regardless of what happened with the university’s budget; the board is expected to approve a budget recommendation to the Florida Board of Governors on Thursday as well.
“If we didn’t have those two positions, there may be a question as to whether or not we’re serious,” Ammons said.
Some trustees, though, seemed to push for alternatives. While saying he personally supported the idea, Narayan Persaud — the board’s faculty representative — said some parts of it might be a tough sell.
“Coming from the perspective of faculty, they feel that whenever something is wrong at the institution, we add another layer of bureaucracy,” Persaud said. ” … All we are doing here is to add other layers to the bureaucracy.”
And trustee Torey Alston wondered whether the university might be able to reassign current members of the university’s staff to deal with the problem instead of creating new positions.
“When hazing is no longer an issue, (and) the culture is gone in a year or two, what happens to this position?” Alston said, who preceded the question by noting it was “optimistic.”
Other board members cautioned against believing that hazing would be gone quickly, or perhaps at all, with one trustee saying the university needed to guard against a “recurrence.”
by Brandon Larrabee