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FAMU trustees reject Gov. Rick Scott's request to suspend school president

Florida A&M University provost Cynthia Hughes-Harris, center, speaks during the board of trustees conference call Monday, where the panel refused to suspend the school’s president.

Associated Press

Florida A&M University provost Cynthia Hughes-Harris, center, speaks during the board of trustees conference call Monday, where the panel refused to suspend the school’s president.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University trustees needed just two minutes Monday to dismiss Gov. Rick Scott's call to suspend president James Ammons as authorities investigate a student's hazing death and allegations of financial fraud.

"We will stand firm against outside influence regardless of how well intended," said board of trustees chairman Solomon Badger.

Meeting via conference call, the 12-member board barely discussed a recommendation that Ammons be removed until the investigations are complete.

Badger suggested the board wait for a final report before taking further disciplinary action against Ammons, the university's president since 2007.

"Dealing with a sensitive matter, such as a student's death, allegations of hazing and the well-founded concerns of the students' safety, requires that we operate on facts," he said.

The board spent about 20 minutes talking about upcoming meetings and the addition of weekly conference calls to stay on top of investigations into the school, its marching band and the death of 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion.

In a statement, Scott said he wanted Ammons to step down "for the sake of appearances, and to assure the public that these investigations are clearly independent."

"However, we have a process in Florida for the administration of the State University System, and that process has been followed," he said. "Like all other Floridians, I will abide by the decision made by the Florida A&M University board of trustees."

Ironically, trustees asked Ammons to clean up the nation's largest historically black university when he was made president in 2007. The school had been placed on probation by its accrediting institution and was rocked by state audits that revealed financial mismanagement.

Ammons, who turns 59 on Friday, guided the school through those storms — the probation was lifted and auditors declared many of the financial woes solved. Now he finds new problems.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened a second investigation into the university this month, announcing it had found financial fraud during its inquiry into Champion's death. And before that, the university's vice president for audit and compliance, Charles O'Duor, resigned after a review by an outside firm that found the methodology behind 15 internal audits below industry and university standards.

Scott called for Ammons to step down last week hours after he returned from a trade mission and goodwill trip to Israel.

The recommendation angered university students, who assembled on campus and marched two miles to the Governor's Mansion in protest, saying Scott was wielding power he did not have.

Representatives of the school's alumni association warned in a news conference Sunday that the interference of the governor could jeopardize the university's accreditation.

Black lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and the Legislative Black Caucus, also have criticized Scott's involvement.

"Certainly issues relating to hazing and bullying are not limited to FAMU or to black colleges but to schools nationwide and need to be addressed," Brown wrote in a Friday letter. "Yet focusing excessively on one incident at just one school is not the answer or the proper path towards correcting this problem."

Monday marks the one-month anniversary of Champion's death.

Medical examiners found bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back and said he suffered extensive hemorrhaging from the hazing incident.

No arrests have been made in his case.

Times staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which included information from the Tallahassee Democrat. Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders @tampabay.com or (850)224-7263.

FAMU trustees reject Gov. Rick Scott's request to suspend school president 12/19/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 19, 2011 10:51pm]
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