Famed FAMU marching band suspended another year
Monday, May 14, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida A&M University’s famed marching band is being suspended for at least one more school year as officials try to cleanse the hazing culture that led to the death of a drum major, the school’s president said Monday.
FAMU President James Ammons said the Marching 100 should stay off the field at least until a new band director is hired and new rules for the band have been adopted.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony charges in the November hazing death of Robert Champion, while two others face misdemeanor counts. The band has been banned from performing since soon after he died, and band director Julian White recently retired after it was revealed that at least 100 band members were not students when Champion died.
“There is no question the band must be restructured, there are measures we feel we must take,” Ammons said.
Ammons was already under pressure from many state officials — including Gov. Rick Scott — to keep the Marching 100 sidelined until other ongoing investigations into the band are completed.
The Marching 100 has had a rich history, performing at Super Bowls and in inauguration parades. The band has been one of the main draws during FAMU football games, and some board members on Monday wanted to know if the decision to keep the band off the field until 2013 would impact ticket sales.
But several trustees told Ammons on Monday that they supported his decision to keep the band suspended.
Travis Roberts, a 25-year-old clarinet player from Fort Lauderdale who has been on the band four years, said he also agreed with the decision. Roberts, who said he has never been hazed because he chose not to be, wants to make sure the university takes real steps toward addressing the issue.
“What do we do in that one year process to make sure these things do not happen again?” Roberts asked. “We lack consistency at times, and this is something that needs to change. ... No one has taken accountability for what has happened. This thing didn’t start only five years ago. This thing has happened the past 50 years.”
Rayshun Head, a 22-year-old student, also said the move was necessary to make sure the hazing stops.
“If they don’t address this and things continue to happen and it could be the next person, someone else’s son or daughter could die over a hazing situation, so FAMU’s got to do what it has to do,” Head said.
Champion’s death was just one of several hazing incidents in the past year.
Aaron Golson, who was charged this month in the Champion case, had previously been charged with battery and hazing for allegedly beating band member Bria Hunter to initiate her into the “Red Dawg Order” — a band clique for students who come from Georgia. Golson initially pleaded not guilty in the Hunter case, but his attorney announced Monday that Golson would change his plea later this week. It was not clear if he would plead no contest or guilty.
Ammons tried to fire White last November. But White’s dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded. He insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated.
That changed last week after Ammons reported to trustees that three of those charged in Champion’s death weren’t FAMU students at the time.
For his part, White said he agreed with Ammons’ decision to suspend the band. He said that while he had “strong feelings” about the band, a message needs to be sent that hazing won’t be tolerated.
“I think we need to impress on the students and the community that we cannot allow the band to hold the public hostage,” White said.
Meanwhile, state authorities continue to investigate the band’s finances.
Frank Brogan, the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, wrote a blunt letter last week urging Ammons to keep the band suspended while the investigations continue. The state university system has its own probe into whether FAMU officials ignored past warnings about hazing.
Pam Champion, the mother of Robert Champion, has said that the band should be disbanded so the university can “clean house.”
Chris Chestnut, an attorney for the Champion family, said they were “relieved” by the decision to keep the suspension intact for another year.
“The family is a huge supporter of the band and the institution of FAMU, but they have grave concerns about the safety of students in that band, due to the lack of rules and regulations, supervision and oversight,” Chestnut said. “I think they are somewhat relieved. They are disappointed that all of this could have been avoided if FAMU had paid attention to what was going on in that band for the last few years.”
The Champion family has already told FAMU they plan to sue the university.
FAMU has already begun making some changes following Champion’s death — including a new regulation requiring those attending, visiting or working at the school to tell police within 24 hours about any hazing incidents.
Ammons said Monday that the university is looking at new rules for the band, including academic standards for band members, limits on eligibility and increasing the number of adults who must accompany the band on out-of-town trips. Champion died on a band bus outside an Orlando hotel.
FAMU set up a task force to look at hazing, although the panel has not met since a flare-up over whether it should follow the state’s open meetings laws. Several members have since resigned.