Sunday, December 17, 2017

Notes reveal FAMU dean's concerns about band hazing before drum major's death

TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University's dean of students wanted to suspend the school's Marching 100 band for hazing practices three days before drum major Robert Champion's death, according to notes obtained in a public records request.

Dean Henry Kirby urged university administrators to shut down the famed band similar to the way it suspended a fraternity in 2006. The school suspended the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity chapter on campus after five members were charged with using wooden canes to beat a pledge during an initiation ritual. Its charter was revoked in 2007.

Kirby's notes were in materials obtained through a public records request by various media. And while the professor has not discussed his notes, they suggest he sought a long-term suspension to put an end to hazing practices within the band.

"It would effectively stop all this hazing," he wrote.

And it wasn't the first time Kirby had recommended that the band and the band director be suspended for failing to eradicate hazing.

"My comments were not well received and … administrators, in the past, in my opinion, did not take a firm stand on suspending the band," Kirby wrote.

Former FAMU police Chief Calvin Ross, who retired earlier this year, asked administrators to keep the band home from the Nov. 19 game because of the hazing issues. It was after that game that Champion died following a beating he received during a hazing ritual aboard one of the buses that carried the band to Orlando.

If the suggestions by Kirby and Ross during the Nov. 16 meeting of top school administrators had been followed, the band would have been suspended and not in Orlando. There is no evidence that FAMU president James Ammons was aware of the discussions that day. He has said he was unaware of any hazing issues within the band.

Florida A&M is on a four-day-workweek summer schedule, and no one was immediately available to comment on the latest report.

Kelly Layman, spokeswoman for the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's public universities, said it could not comment on the latest development because the board's inspector general has an ongoing investigation into the school's institutional controls.

A judge has set an October trial date for 11 marching band members charged with felony hazing in Champion's death.

Although Ammons suspended the band for the 2012-13 school year, he has hired a new band director despite a caution months ago by State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan.

"It is our strong belief that a reinstatement of the band should not be considered at this time," Brogan wrote Ammons on May 10, noting several outstanding issues, including his own department's investigation of the school. "Reinstating the band prior to these issues being resolved would sidestep efforts under way, which could impact the band's long-term survival."

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