By BRANDON LARRABEE
The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE (DEC 28) – Safeguards against hazing at Florida A&M University were not strong enough in the lead-up to the 2011 death of drum major Robert Champion, but inflammatory accusations that university leaders recklessly ignored calls for action by the former band director can’t be proven, according to a new report by a Florida Board of Governors watchdog.
The report, released Friday, details the missteps of FAMU officials in responding to multiple hazing allegations, from faulty compliance with university policies that could have helped prevent the tragedy to a lack of follow-up on some reports of hazing. And it confirms that FAMU administrators met about hazing three days before Champion’s Nov. 19 death.
Champion died after he was allegedly brutally beaten on a bus as part of a hazing ritual followed by members of the university’s iconic “Marching 100” band.
The report said the accounts of officials at the meeting differed on whether they discussed suspending the band and who proposed or supported the idea. The band has since been suspended, and former FAMU President James Ammons resigned after months of questions about Champion’s death and other investigations swirling around the school.
Champion died on a band charter bus in November after the renowned marching band performed at the annual Florida Classic football game in Orlando. Eleven individuals were charged with felony hazing in the incident, which drew nationwide media coverage. “(We) conclude that the university was unable to demonstrate the existence of adequate institutional controls to ensure the effective implementation of the hazing and Student Code of Conduct regulations, and Band Directive, which formed the basis of the anti-hazing program,” said the report from the Board of Governors’ Office of the Inspector General.
The report brushes away a complaint from the former director of bands, Julian White, that he tried unsuccessfully to call attention to the band’s issues with hazing. It says White contradicted himself on whether he recommended suspending the band for the Florida Classic during the Nov. 16 meeting.
“Because of the conflicting testimony of the participants at the November 16, 2011 meeting, including Dr. White’s, there is insufficient evidence to support his assertion of reckless indifference or disregard,” the report says. The inspector general’s report recommends FAMU tighten up its record-keeping on hazing allegations, work more closely with the Tallahassee Police Department on hazing investigations and strengthen the university’s Office of Judicial Affairs.
FAMU has 15 days to respond to the report. In a memo to the Board of Governors accompanying the report, Chancellor Frank Brogan said he would recommend that high-ranking officials with the State University System work with interim President Larry Robinson and follow FAMU’s progress in trying to end hazing and other issues on campus.
“I have pledged to work closely with Dr. Robinson and his team to ensure they have our full support — not only in addressing the issues detailed in this report and others, but in making sure FAMU fosters a culture that does not tolerate the lack of control that led to its recent problems,” Brogan wrote.