Ammons Resigns

July 11, 2012
By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

It’s official. James Ammons is resigning as president of Florida A&M. Here’s his resignation letter to the board of trustees.

It’s a sad day for FAMU anytime there’s a messy transition like this, but the truth is, this was a necessary step to recover from the recent hazing scandal. It was simply never going to be credible to the extended set of constituencies that FAMU answers to — legislators, parents, donors, et cetera — to say that the school was serious about fixing things as long as the same person was in charge at the top.

Ammons led an administration that was tin-eared regarding hazing prior to Robert Champion’s death. For the record, we should note that his wasn’t the only such administration. But you know what, that’s not a defense. The good things he did in other areas aside from hazing aren’t a defense. The fact that he’s such a likable guy — and he is — that’s not a defense either.

It’s also worth noting that no president is all good or all bad — not Ammons, not even the hated Fred Gainous or Castell Bryant. That’s not the point.

Ammons had to go. Forget the state of Florida; let’s say the universe dictated it. This is just how these things go.


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.


NPR debate: Should college football be banned?

May 30, 2012
By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Just got through listening to a really interesting debate sponsored by National Public Radio about whether college football should be banned in light of recent coverage of head injuries, corruption, et cetera.

I’ll freely admit, I’m getting a little off-topic here, since the event wasn’t about hazing. But I figure a lot of readers of the blog would be interested to see the link.

Listen. Enjoy. Get angry or agree heartily. And please drop a comment below. This one screams out for further discussion, I think.


Did FAMU band staff literally look the other way during beatings?

May 25, 2012

The trickle of alarming details continues as reporters and members of the public comb through the trove of documents recently released by the Florida state prosecutor in the Champion case.

A long, document-based story from ABC News on Thursday reconstructing events the night of the Florida Classic included this little tidbit, buried six paragraphs into the narrative:

Band members said that the band director and bus driver were not on the bus for [Champion’s] “crossing over,” but that they were sometimes up front watching movies during the “hot seat” beatings.

Whoa! Full stop. Let’s ponder that one for a moment. That’s a rather serious allegation unto itself, one that stretches well beyond Champion’s death per se, all the way to what’s often described as “a culture of hazing” for which the higher-ups bear much responsibility.


A big document dump

May 24, 2012

Prosecutors in the Robert Champion case have just released thousands of pages of interview transcripts and other documents. Reporters who have seen the stuff say it offers by far the most detailed account yet of what went down in those fateful hours after last November’s Florida Classic.

The AP’s Kyle Hightower writes:

Robert Champion was known for his opposition to the hazing rampant in the Florida A&M University marching band, but he was vying to be lead drum major and wanted the respect he could earn by enduring a brutal ritual known as “crossing over.” With chances for initiation ending with the football season, fellow band members say, Champion agreed to run through a bus lined with people kicking and beating him with drumsticks, mallets and fists.

The decision would be fatal.

Interviews with defendants in Champion’s killing and other band members released Wednesday paint the most detailed picture yet of what happened the night he died last November. They also offer some insight into why Champion, whose parents and friends say he was a vocal opponent of hazing, finally relented and got aboard “Bus C”… Champion was seeking the top position in the famed marching band, leading dozens who had already endured the hazing ritual… Some felt the leadership position had to be earned.

More than anything, it sounds like the documents do an exquisite job of showing how dumb and far and from glamorous hazing ultimately is.

Unfortunately, it seems for now that summations like Hightower’s are all that’s practical for most people to see, since there’s no link yet to full digital versions of the documents on the Web. But we’ll be sure to post the link later, whenever it’s available.

In the meantime, if you’ve found one, or if you have the docs at hand, please let us know. We’re also glad to upload and host a copy here.

[UPDATE: T]he website of Central Florida News 13, a local cable outlet, included links to the full set of documents in the sidebar to its recent story on the Champion case.]