Future of FAMU prez in question after band death

By BRENT KALLESTAD and MIKE SCHNEIDER | December 8, 2011 | 9:25 AM EST

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The future of Florida A&M University's president is in question as authorities investigate whether hazing played a role in the death of a member of the school's famed marching band.

The school's board of trustees planned to meet Thursday for a second day to talk about the death. It is possible the board could talk about University President James Ammons, but it's not clear whether they will do so.

A board that oversees Florida's public universities has started an investigation into whether school administrators did enough when hazing was brought to their attention.

Ammons dodged several questions about his fate.

"I haven't had much time to think about myself," said Ammons, who became president of his alma mater in July 2007. "At this minute, I'm still the president of the university. But we'll wait and see what the determination of the board is."

Board chairman Solomon Badger said he supported Ammons. Other trustees deferred to Badger.

"We have individually talked to chairman Badger about the level of support," trustee Kelvin Lawson said. "I'm not going to tell you the details."

Ammons does have a powerful ally in alumnus Al Lawson, a former state legislator whose name adorns the school's new multipurpose center and gymnasium.

"Just by removing the president you don't solve the problem," Lawson told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "They need to give him a chance to rectify and clean up the situation."

The Tallahassee insurance executive said FAMU needs support from the Board of Governors and Chancellor Frank Brogan.

Clarece Polke, editor-in-chief of the school's newspaper, The Famuan, said Wednesday there is been no move from the student body to have Ammons replaced.

Lawson also noted the school recently signed Ammons to a new five-year contract and that any buyout at this point would be costly.

School officials said Wednesday that four students who were expelled for their role in what is believed to be the hazing death of Robert Champion have returned to classes because the investigation is not finished. The status of band director Julian White also changed. He had faced termination Dec. 22 but is now on administrative leave with pay, FAMU attorney David Self said during a break in meetings of the school's board of trustees in Orlando.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement asked the university to stop any disciplinary action until a criminal investigation into Champion's death is done.

Detectives say hazing played a role in his Nov. 19 death. He died aboard a band bus following a football game against rival Bethune-Cookman University. Witnesses said he vomited before becoming unresponsive.

"According to the FDLE letter, all disciplinary action had to cease," said Henry Kirby, dean of students.

White's attorney called the change "a step in the right direction." He said White would seek full reinstatement as band director and as a fully-tenured music professor.

"We still believe that administrative leave with pay is tantamount to a form of discipline," White's attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said Wednesday. "We will continue exploring all legal options to have Dr. White fully reinstated as Director of Bands and to his position as full tenured professor and chair of the FAMU Department of Music."

An attorney for that board informed trustees that Champion's family plans to sue over his death. They've requested the Tallahassee-based university's insurance information.

However, FAMU's famed Marching 100 band remains suspended from performing.


Kallestad and Associated Press writer Bill Kaczor reported from Tallahassee, Fla.