FAMU band not entitled to return to field yet

Published Jan. 4, 2013

Florida A&M University students and boosters who are lobbying to have the Marching 100 band reinstated and performing again should have their zeal tempered by a scathing Board of Governors inspector general report that reveals a systemic failure by school officials to prevent the brutal hazing rituals like the one that killed band member Robert Champion in 2011. FAMU officials turned a blind eye to the hazing and repeatedly failed to follow up with law enforcement on at least nine earlier assaults on band members to determine if long-standing rules governing student conduct had been violated. Until FAMU fully implements the changes needed to ensure that hazing is eradicated and the safety of band members is secure, the Marching 100 should remain on the sidelines.

Champion's beating death on a band bus in Orlando exposed Florida A&M's cruel culture of hazing. But as the inspector general's 32-page report notes, long before the attack on the 26-year-old drum major and despite repeated warnings about hazing incidents, FAMU officials had been ignoring its own rules imposed in 1998. This was a culture of de facto FAMU-sanctioned violence.

Since Champion's death, 12 students have been charged in the incident, FAMU's president has resigned and the band director has retired. And those aren't the university's only issues, which include a criminal investigation into the band's finances and false audit summaries by university auditors. A regional accrediting organization also has put FAMU on probation for 12 months, and the university has a year to demonstrate its problems have been corrected or its accreditation could be revoked.

As university system chancellor Frank Brogan wrote last week, the university's issues did not occur by accident or benign neglect. Rather, they are "a direct result of action or inaction by FAMU personnel, who either had not developed adequate policies or simply did not enforce the policies that were in place.''

As for the band, the school has tightened student eligibility requirements for band members and imposed a minimum grade-point average. But much more still needs to be done. Before the Marching 100 is allowed to reassume a role in campus life, FAMU administrators need to craft a broad and detailed set of guidelines prohibiting any form of hazing, create a clear set of consequences including dismissal from the university for hazing violations, and establish unambiguous lines of communication between the school and law enforcement to prosecute hazing offenders. The university also needs to hire a new band director and fill two other jobs aimed at ending the hazing culture.

It's understandable that FAMU's students and alums want to see the Marching 100 back on the field. But first the hard work needs to be completed to better ensure that the new band does not include the old hazing culture that led to Champion's death.