Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

Aftershocks from hazing death hit FAMU again

TALLAHASSEE — Aftershocks from the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion six months ago rocked Florida A&M University again Thursday, with the state's top university official calling for the Marching 100 band to stay suspended.

And after FAMU president James Ammons disclosed that 101 of the band's members were not enrolled in FAMU last fall but marched anyway, longtime band director Julian White abruptly announced his retirement.

A few of those unregistered band members are among the 13 people arrested last week on hazing charges in connection with Champion's death.

"It's been a crazy year for FAMU," said Board of Trustees chairman Solomon Badger.

Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system, urged Ammons not to reinstate the band in a Thursday letter citing "the ever-increasing body of issues that harm the institution, its students and, therefore, our state university system as a whole."

Among them: pending criminal cases against band members; an ongoing state investigation into band finances; the status of FAMU's largely deserted antihazing task force; and the "questionable" enrollment issue.

"Reinstating the band prior to these issues being resolved would side-step efforts under way, which could impact the band's long-term survival," Brogan wrote.

Trustees expect to hear Ammons' decision about the future of the band in a Monday meeting. He divulged the enrollment issue as part of a routine update to trustees Tuesday. It was common for students from neighboring schools to be in the band if they were enrolled in a required music course at FAMU, but a quarter of the members last fall were not.

From his letter:

• FAMU students comprised 331 of the band's 457 "travelers" at the beginning of the fall semester. Twenty-five were employees.

• Forty-nine members were students from Tallahassee Community College or Florida State University. None was enrolled in the required FAMU music course.

• Fifty-two members attended FAMU at one time but were no longer enrolled while playing with the band in the fall.

FAMU officials said about 60 of the 101 students who weren't enrolled at FAMU attended the Nov. 19 Florida Classic in Orlando, where Champion died.

Investigators say Champion, 26, was killed after a brutal hazing ritual aboard a bus after the game against Bethune-Cookman.

Three band members arrested on felony hazing charges in Champion's death were not enrolled at any institution in the fall semester, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Nobody should be playing in the band that's not enrolled in a school somewhere," Badger, the FAMU trustees chairman, told the Times/Herald. "Wherever the ball was dropped on that it has to be corrected and corrected immediately."

But the issue of non-FAMU students playing in the Marching 100 is not new.

Castell Bryant tried to tackle it when she took over as interim FAMU president in 2005.

The size of the band shrunk under her two-year tenure because she insisted the band be solely for FAMU students.

Band members once threatened to strike if TCC, FSU and ex-FAMU students were not allowed to perform in a big game in Miami.

Bryant warned she would rescind scholarships if they didn't show up.

"There was a radical turn," she said. "I stepped in there and made it go away."

Ammons tried firing White, 71, from his 14-year post as director not long after Champion died, saying he failed to end hazing despite years of incidents within the band. White, who joined the music department in 1972, argued his warnings were routinely ignored, and he was later put on administrative leave with pay.

Badger had not heard of White's retirement when reached by the Times/Herald.

"It's just a surprise to me because I didn't know that was even on the radar screen for him," Badger said. "I'm happy for anyone that's put 40 years into the education community."

Henry Rivers, a FAMU drum major in the mid 1990s, said he was shocked to hear White is finished for good.

"I just hope that Doc is okay," he said. "I know that this is certainly not how he envisioned his retirement."

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