*The board of trustees at Florida A&M is expected to consider today a request from Gov. Rick Scott that the university’s president be suspended while officials conduct an investigation into various issues at the school, including the hazing death of a band member.
An investigation is under way following the death of Robert Champion Jr., 26. The drum major in the FAMU band died last month in a suspected hazing incident. His death has been ruled a homicide.
School trustees already have placed band director Julian White on administrative leave, in addition to reprimanding President James Ammons.
Solomon L. Badger III, the chairman of FAMU’s board of trustees, said last week that a decision on how the university goes “forward” — including the president’s fate — will come Monday. But FAMU’s National Alumni Association said Sunday that Scott could place the school’s accreditation in jeopardy by requesting the suspension.
In response, Scott said in a statement he was “disappointed in the direction the dialog regarding the hazing-murder of a Florida A&M University student has taken.”
“This week, I learned of reports of at least one child molestation case that took place on campus,” Scott said, referring to a case unrelated to the hazing allegations. He added that Ammons told him he was not aware of the alleged incident until months after it occurred.
“Based on all of these facts, I merely suggested it would be wise for Dr. Ammons to step aside until these investigations are completed,” he said.
FAMU National Alumni Association President Tommy Mitchell told reporters Sunday the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which oversees accreditation, sent a “warning” to Scott after the governor asked the university’s board of trustees to suspend Ammons.
The warning said that school governing boards should be free of influence from government bodies, Mitchell said. If the board suspends Ammons at Scott’s direction, it could have unforeseen consequences for the university, he added.
“Gov. Scott should not be in the position of weakening the accreditation of our alma mater,” Mitchell said.
After meeting with Scott on Friday, Ammons said the two had a “great conversation” and both “have the interests of Florida A&M University at heart.”
“The governor made a recommendation, and as governor, he can make a recommendation,” the university president said Friday. “At the end of the day, it is up to the board of trustees. I will be right along with (their) decision.”
Mitchell said the association’s thoughts and prayers are with Champion’s family. But he stressed that hazing is a national problem, and said deaths have occurred at other schools. Twelve to 13 deaths have occurred this year, he said, in Florida and other states, but did not provide specifics.
“Name another university that suspended a president for hazing — and they have deaths every year,” Mitchell said. “… Hazing has occurred all over the country. Deaths have occurred all over the country.”
He questioned why the situation at Florida A&M is receiving so much attention, adding it may be an “HBCU (historically black college and university) problem.”
In his statement, Scott said FAMU was not being singled out. He said he has called on all Florida universities to examine their hazing and harassment policies and requested that university presidents remind their students, faculty and staff “of how detrimental hazing can be.”
Ammons has already been publicly reprimanded by the school’s board of trustees, Scott noted.
“It is up to the FAMU Board of Trustees and Dr. Ammons to determine how to proceed,” he said. “I have not and will not try to influence their decision. I simply offered my advice and opinion based on the events and the facts I was made aware of.”
Controversy has swirled around the Tallahassee university since Champion’s death, including three arrests tied to the alleged hazing of a freshman band member a few weeks earlier.
And Jerry Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said last week that investigators looking into Champion’s death have turned up evidence “that there were financial irregularities having to do with the band and several other components of the university.” The suspected financial irregularities are not directly related to the death.
These issues prompted Scott on Thursday to recommend to the chairman of Florida A&M’s trustees that they suspend Ammons until state investigations of the university and its leadership are complete.
Orange County officials said in a statement that Champion died November 19 because of “hemorrhagic shock” — the result of excessive internal bleeding — “due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma sustained during a hazing incident.” He died in Orlando, where his band had been playing. No one has been charged in Champion’s death.
Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage called “crossing Bus C.” One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that students “walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back.”
Four students were expelled from the school, and another 30 were dismissed from the band after Champion’s death, Ammons wrote in a letter to the board of trustees last month.
The young man’s father, Robert Champion Sr., said, “We are pleased to find out what caused our son’s death.”
“Now, we need to move forward, so this doesn’t have to happen to any other kid,” the father said in a statement.