FAMU Trustees Opt for “Independent” Anti-Hazing Committee

FAMU president James Ammons (left) greets Robert Champion (right) at the Atlanta Classic football game. (photo courtesy of the Rattler Nation blog) FAMU president James Ammons (left) greets Robert Champion (right) at the Atlanta Classic football game. (photo courtesy of the Rattler Nation blog)

Trustees of Florida A & M University (FAMU), hoping to demonstrate they are responding decisively to the hazing death of a university drum major, this week approved an action plan drawn by their New York-based public relations counsel and appointing a five-member “independent” committee to study hazing on college campuses and what can be done to stop it at FAMU. The action plan also includes honoring the deceased band member with a memorial and scholarship.

“The FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee will be forward-looking and will be charged with seeking solutions to hazing,” says Belinda Shannon, a member of the FAMU board of trustees. “It will look at how other institutions addressed hazing problems and examine what has worked,” says Shannon, in a statement released late Tuesday. “It will also look at how to best get students to resist hazing.”

The trustees approved the plan, drawn by DKC Public Relations, during a Monday telephone conference call by a vote of 9-1. DKC was hired by the trustees last month on a 30-day $30,000 contract to help provide crisis management. School officials said the agency’s officials have not visited the school. They did interview several school officials, including President James Ammons, and trustees, before making their recommendations to the full board of trustees.

FAMU chief communications officer Sharon Saunders says Ammons supported the consultant’s plan and asserted it would “complement” the high-profile task force appointed late last year by Ammons. The work of that panel, which included the state’s former attorney general and a retired Pulitzer Prize winner among others, was suspended by Ammons a few weeks after it was appointed. The suspension was made in deference to state criminal investigators who asked the school to halt all actions dealing with the hazing death until their investigation was completed.

Saunders says the “anti-hazing” committee will not conduct any interviews with FAMU employees or students and will focus on external exploration. Ammons’ panel “will take a deep dive into the issues … dig deeper internally,” says Saunders in its probe of the roots of hazing at FAMU, how FAMU has responded over the years to its hazing issues and how they should be address in the future.

The “independent” committee, as described in a statement from the trustees, would have members with “some background in law, academia, public policy or psychology, and experience leading businesses or other large organizations,” the trustees’ statement says. “A member could also have experience in a similar college marching band or with a national band organization,” it says.

The “independent” committee will be asked to address three broad questions for the trustees: 1) how to govern the university band and its activities, 2) how do other universities handle hazing issues and 3) what has worked in getting students to resist hazing.

The trustees plan to name the “anti-hazing committee” members at their Feb. 9 board meeting, Saunders says. By then, they are expected to lay out a working time table and budget for the committee. Saunders says no provisions have been made to compensate the committee.

Regarding the memorial and scholarship in honor of Robert Champion, the 26-year-old FAMU drum major who died in early November after allegedly being beaten by some fellow band members in a hazing incident, Saunders says the school plans to seek the blessings of Champion’s family in Atlanta before proceeding. No amount of money has been designated for the memorial or the scholarship.