1. Opinion

FAMU president should exit

Published May 14, 2012

Florida A&M President James Ammons' announcement Monday that the university's marching band will not perform during the 2012-13 school year should not allow him to escape accountability for a scandal that has stained the institution. Six months after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, each new revelation suggests a renegade culture that was allowed to fester for years. Restoring the university's credibility will require new leadership, and Ammons should resign or be fired.

It has been a steady dirge of tone-deaf notes engulfing FAMU's once acclaimed and now disgraced marching band. But it is a symphony of scandal entirely of the university's own making. For decades, school officials knew about the brutal culture of hazing assaults on band members and did little or nothing to stop it. Now Ammons has disclosed that 101 of the marching band's members last fall were not even students. Imagine the outrage if dozens of football players at the University of Florida or Florida State University turned out to be ringers.

Yet Ammons accepted no responsibility in a conference call Monday with the university's board of trustees. Trustee Narayan Persaud, the president of the faculty senate, said various school officials have denied they are to blame for nonstudents marching in the band and asked, "Who is indeed responsible?"

Apparently not the university president. Ammons said it was university policy that all band members be students, but he blamed the instructors of a mandatory music class for band members for failing to verify enrollment information. The university president is passing the buck for an institutional failure, and it is inconceivable that he did not know this had been a longtime issue with the band.

As interim FAMU president in 2005, Castell Bryant tried to ensure only FAMU students played in the band. When band members threatened not to perform unless FSU students and former FAMU students were allowed to perform, Bryant said she would take away their scholarships if they did not play. Yet last year 49 band members were students at Tallahassee Community College or FSU. None were enrolled in the required FAMU music course to make them eligible to perform. Another 52 band members were ex-FAMU students. Three of the 13 people charged in Champion's hazing death were not FAMU students and should not have even been in the band.

If Ammons didn't know that the Marching 100 was filled with imposters, he should have. Julian White, who oversaw the FAMU marching band for 14 years, certainly knew and apparently didn't care. He abruptly retired last week after Ammons released the information. White previously had complained that he tried to end the hazing but was ignored. That explanation is not good enough.

FAMU's band is famous for its disciplined marching routines. But because of arrogance and incompetence, the university's administration and its fabled Marching 100 lost their way. It's time for Ammons to go and for new leadership that can lead the university out of this crisis.


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