Published January 13, 2015
The head of Florida A&M University proposed stringent requirements Monday for membership in the school's famed marching band, bidding to stamp out a culture of hazing at the university after the November beating death of a drum major.
FAMU President James Ammons said only full-time students should be allowed entry into The Marching 100 under a broad plan that would also limit student participation in the band to four years and stiffen the academic requirements for joining.
He also requested creation of the post of an "anti-hazing special assistant to the president" with wide-ranging authority to address hazing at the university and adding a compliance officer in the school's music department to ensure students heed eligibility requirements. Ammons also proposed adding three new positions to the school office responsible for overseeing student conduct.
Ammons suspended the band shortly after Robert Champion's death following a band performance last November in Orlando. Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion's hazing. In taking that action last month, Ammons said The Marching 100 would remain off the field for the next year while FAMU moves to clean up a culture of hazing surrounding the band.
The university also needs to find a new band director since long-time director Julian White announced his retirement.
Some of the changes sought Monday by Ammons had been proposed by others who said the band needs to be managed like a successful football program.
University trustees later this week are scheduled to discuss anti-hazing efforts and how the university will move ahead while the band is suspended. One proposal includes using a battle of DJ's at FAMU home football games.
The chairman of FAMU's board said many of the suggestions from Ammons mirror ideas he and others have been considering. "The intent is to get the band and all group activities under control," Solomon Badger added.
But the idea of limiting the band to just students is not new. FAMU's interim president in 2005 barred non-students from participating in the band.
The Marching 100 has had a rich history, performing at Super Bowls and in inauguration parades. The band also has been one of the main draws during FAMU football games. But Champion's death exposed a culture of hazing around the organization and his death was just one of several hazing incidents involving the band in the past year.
A draft of Ammons' proposal to board members states that the special "anti-hazing" assistant would keep track of complaints and reports of hazing, as well as conduct investigative briefings.
"This individual will help drive home the message that hazing by anyone will not be tolerated," Ammons said in a statement.
Last month, Ammons also told trustees that at the start of the fall 2011 semester there were 457 people on the band roster, but 101 of them were not students at FAMU. A total of 52 people — including 51 band members and one cheerleader — had been previously enrolled at the school but were not enrolled at the time of Champion's death.
Hundreds of pages of records reviewed earlier this year by The Associated Press showed years of repeated warnings about hazing passed without any serious response from the school's leadership until Champion's death.
The State University System of Florida is conducting its own review to see whether or not top FAMU officials ignored past warnings about hazing.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting a separate criminal investigation of the band's finances.
Dean Colson, chairman of the board that oversees the state university system, told Badger in a letter Monday that the state board remains "concerned with a number of issues that continue to mount at FAMU" and wants them addressed as part of the annual evaluation of Ammons. Colson said he expects Badger to consult with the state board about Ammons' performance for the past year.
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