Some FAMU staff wanted band suspended before the Florida Classic

June 13, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

The plot thickens as to who knew what, when regarding hazing at FAMU.

In a story on Monday, the Orlando Sentinel’s Denise-Marie Balona and Stephen Hudak wrote:

The former chief of Florida A&M University’s police department and the school’s dean of students recommended that FAMU not allow its famed marching band to perform at the Florida Classic in Orlando last fall because of concerns over hazing, the former chief told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday.

Former band director Julian White quashed the idea when it came forward during a brief staff meeting Nov. 16, saying the band was a main feature of the annual fundraising event, said Calvin Ross, who recently retired from the FAMU police department. A spokeswoman for White, however, said the former band director actually agreed with the recommendation, but no one at the meeting had authority to suspend the band.

The little he said-he said conflict there aside, this story goes on to provide quite a little narrative about whether Champion’s death was preventable based on what administrators knew.

A story like this also makes it incrementally harder to defend President Ammons, as many FAMU alumni have, by saying that he can’t control every little detail of everything at the university, that he didn’t know exactly what was going on with the band, et cetera.

The Sentinel story doesn’t place Ammons in the Nov. 16 meeting, and the story is inconclusive as to whether he was told afterward about the proposal to suspend the band. But given the significance of such an idea, coming from the police chief and the dean of students, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be told.

In other words, this story involving other senior-level administrators moves things incrementally closer to the president’s office. You can bet that the president will be asked about it publicly the next time he’s in front of the trustees, who already have no confidence in him, or one of the several other state-level entities now investigating the Champion incident.

He better have a good answer as to why he was either unaware of or opposed to his own deputies’ desire to ban the band.


5 Responses to “Some FAMU staff wanted band suspended before the Florida Classic”

  1. dre' Says:

    quite frankly, i think calvin ross and henry kirby are both lying. lemme splain…

    both have been around the university for a number of years. if the culture of hazing is as deeply rooted as they want us to believe, they would have made that recommendation long ago – when more serious reports came out. you know, the ones that actually sent people to the hospital. it’s very convenient for the police chief who (according to reports) was copied on numerous reports of hazing from dr. white to only try to take a stance after someone has died in an “i told you so” fashion.

    for them to claim that dr. white “quashed” the issue is also another red flag to me. since when does a band director’s request supersede the will of the dean of students?

    in all honesty, it may have been too late to prevent the band from traveling anyhow – contracts and all the other issues that go on with the classic. but i think something else to think about is the fact that the university really didn’t have a reason to suspect that something would happen on that trip. lemme splain further…

    according to reports (and personal conversations), chief ross and dean kirby came out during rehearsal to remind the students that hazing can land you in jail only days before the classic. the students had also seen 20+ freshmen and upperclassmen kicked out for hazing. assuming this was the first incident this year, why would anyone think that the students would be stupid enough to haze 3 days later? naive, maybe. but i don’t think think anyone could’ve predicted this. that’s why the “i told you so” nature of this just sounds purely disingenuous to me. it’s inconsistent with their previous actions, and just doesn’t make sense from a threat remediation standpoint.

    it’s like saying, “if they don’t go to the classic, no one will be hazed.” sure, no one would’ve been hazed that trip. but on the next trip, robert would’ve tried to cross over. how can we be sure? because of his (reported) reason to do it in the first place. it was about respect, not the classic. if he didn’t feel he had that respect until he crossed the bus, not going to the classic wouldn’t have changed a thing.

    on another note…i doubt they even sent their “recommendation” to dr ammons. it probably never left that meeting.

    • Peter McKay Says:

      An interesting theory, Dre. Just to clarify, though, do you believe they **ever** made the recommendation in the meeting or no? You seem to go back and forth at the end.

      My hunch is that they did indeed mention the idea in the meeting. Telltale detail for me is that White doesn’t deny it was said; he just disagrees on what his response was.

      Beyond that, my hunch is that the measure of re-warning the band members was something of a compromise. After the idea of not having them march was shot down, however it was shot down, they probably settled on a renewed warning as a “compromise” solution.

    • Daywalker53 Says:

      I tend to agree that there wasn’t enough leadership in that meeting to make the recommendation to Ammons. Now they may have wanted him to have plausible deniability by not informing him hence he could claim he didn’t know. However one or more of them would have to be willing to fall on their sword if something happened. I guess in a way that has occurred since White is out and the Provost is gone.

      The only thing you know is if there were no performance at the classic then champion would be alive and it would be clear FAMU had a zero tolerance policy with teeth. It would also be clear that the President was in charge and serious.

  2. Daywalker53 Says:

    The thing I found incredible in the story is the statement that no administrator at the Nov 16th meeting had the authority to cancel the trip. You mean the only one who can cancel a band performance is the president of the University? This speaks to the quality of leadership of the Ammons team. Despite a policy of zero tolerance for hazing at the end of the day only the president can pull trigger on a band performance.

  3. Dre' Says:

    Full disclosure here – I marched in the 100 late 90s – early 2000s, but I do try to remain as objective as possible.

    Honestly, we had these speeches all the time while I was marching – before and during the season. The only people I’ve ever heard make mention of there not being a Marching “100” are Dr. Foster (former director) and Dr. White. Granted, when Dr. White said it, it was more like a parent making idle threats than anything else, but he constantly warned us that we would be the downfall of the “100” if things didn’t improve.
    My point here is that the recommendation could have been made, but I doubt that anyone in that meeting was seriously considering there not being a “100” at the classic. I just don’t see it happening – not when more severe events have happened in the past (remember,this was before Robert, and no one was seriously injured before the classic), and they didn’t even think to say anything to that effect – at least not publicly. So no, their speech wasn’t a compromise. It was standard operating procedure. Had there been a serious recommendation, we would have heard about it before Chief Ross retired.

    *Dr. Foster’s position on hazing was that he wanted the students involved expelled, but said he never got the university to buy in. He made mention of this in an interview a few years before he died. I think it was one of the “Great Floridian” documentaries. Should be on YouTube somewhere if you’re interested.

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