FAMU President Proposes Sweeping Anti-hazing Regulations

Florida A&M University (FAMU), its image stung by the death of a school marching band drum major involved in a band hazing incident, is planning to impose significant new rules governing hazing issues across the campus as well as the participation and conduct in its world-famous music ensemble.

In a plan released Monday afternoon on behalf of FAMU President James Ammons, the university would also create a major new oversight team specifically responsible for addressing hazing activities throughout the university. The new team, which would include a FAMU Anti-Hazing Special Assistant to the president, would play a key role in helping restore the institution’s tarnished image.

The proposals are to be presented this week to the university’s board of trustees during their annual retreat at the university. The future of the university band and the status of anti-hazing activities are the centerpiece of the retreat agenda. University budgetary items are also to be discussed.

In addition to the creation of the special assistant to the president post, President Ammons proposes establishment of a FAMU compliance officer for the university’s department of music. That person would function much like an NCAA compliance officer, ensuring that all musicians seeking to participate in the university band are enrolled in the school and meet all band eligibility requirements established by the band.

In the aftermath of the student drum major’s death, the university determined last month that more than 100 of the 400 plus members of the marching band were not officially enrolled in the institution last fall when the incident occurred.

The Ammons plan envisions reorganizing the staff of the university’s Office of Judicial Affairs to improve handling of hazing issues, the university said. It would also utilize social media, including a FAMU Anti-Hazing website and Facebook, to “enhance education efforts and reporting” of alleged offenses.

Ammons’ proposals, including a sweeping restructuring of university band rules, appear to constitute the most far reaching by any university president in the nation. If approved by the trustees, the new rules could have a ripple effect across the higher education landscape, particularly with respect to university bands, as many universities wrestle with hazing, an issue that has haunted higher education for decades.

Ammons proposes placing a four-year cap on the number of years a student can participate in music department bands, requiring that all band members be enrolled full-time at FAMU, limiting band practice to 20 hours a week and banning practices that are not supervised by music department staff.

The plan calls for “more rigorous academic requirements” to ensure timely graduation of students. It did not provide details of this part of the plan nor did it address whether the band size would be reduced or professional staff increased as a way to make the ensemble more manageable.

The ideas reflect the circumstances that existed at FAMU before the band was suspended this winter for the remainder of the school year. Ammons has since decided the band will remain on suspension through the 2012-13 school year, giving university administrators time to develop a “comprehensive” plan for overhauling the structure and operation of the marching band and department of music.

In the aftermath of the student drum major’s death, school officials determined the student was not carrying a full load of classes and was in his sixth year in the band.

Later came the determination that 25 percent of its members were not officially enrolled at the time of the hazing incident, although many, if not all, had traveled with the band to Orlando for a football classic where the hazing incident occurred aboard a bus chartered to transport band members. The university also paid for housing and meals for the band participants.

Several years ago, when it was discovered students at neighboring Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University were participating in the FAMU band, the university’s interim president issued a directive banning the practice. The decision drew angry protests from band supporters and was apparently quietly ignored after her departure, say educators familiar with FAMU.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating the band’s finances.

Although FAMU has a history of promoting from within, especially with respect to professionals staffing its music department and band, the university did not say whether the proposed new officials responsible for helping to create and maintain a “hazing free” campus would be internal candidates or hired from outside the university.

The plan issued Monday also did estimate the costs of the new posts.