Hazing Crisis Goes Beyond FAMU

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  • Florida A&M University trustees are set to meet Monday to start mapping the institution’s next steps of leadership with the announced resignation Wednesday of President James Ammons, officials said.

    A FAMU alum credited with turning the university’s finances around in his five-year tenure, Ammons has been under fire since the November death of Robert Champion Jr., who died following band hazing on a bus in Orlando, Florida.

    Ammons announcement of resignation effective Oct. 11 came on the same day parents of deceased drum major Robert Champion Jr. filed a lawsuit claiming the university, its leadership and the bus company where the hazing took place, were liable for the young man’s death.

    Champion, a native of the Atlanta area, would have been 27 on Friday, his family’s lawyer said in a press conference outside of the courthouse in Wednesday in Orlando, Florida.

    Trustees on Monday are expected to discuss whether Ammons should be placed on leave until the effective date of his resignation and plans for transitional leadership of the large historically black public college in Tallahassee, Florida.

    "I don't think that having a lame duck administration — a lame duck leader — is a way to go into the fall term,” trustee Bill Jennings of Orlando, said during a conference call.

    In his letter addressed to Dr. Solomon Badger III, chairman of the board, Ammons said: “I have decided to resign from my position as president in order to initiate my retirement on October 11, 2012. Following the presidency, I will continue my work on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives as a tenured professor on our great faculty.”

    Badger said the resignation was Ammons’ choice. Shortly following the death of Champion, Ammons was officially reprimanded by the board for his handling of the hazing culture at FAMU. And last month, the trustees took an 8-4 vote of no confidence on the embattled president.

    "I am saddened by President Ammons' decision to resign, but it is his choice to do so,” Badger said in a prepared statement provided to BlackAmericaweb.com. “Given all that has transpired, it seems to be in the best interest of the University and I applaud him for putting FAMU ahead of his personal goals."

    While some critics say Ammons was not tough enough on hazing at FAMU, some alumni still applaud his leadership and accomplishments.

    Florida lawmaker Alan Williams, a FAMU alumnus said he was saddened by the president’s resignation.
     
    "From the outset of his tenure, President Ammons has shown strong leadership and has worked to ensure that FAMU remains a beacon of academic excellence,” the Tallahassee Democrat said in a prepared statement.

    “Under his leadership, FAMU has strengthened its long-term vision and built on its excellent reputation. In fact, the university has been named one of the most popular schools in the country and one of the best institutions of learning for African-Americans, particularly those earning doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, engineering and pharmacy.

    “President Ammons has brought positive change to FAMU, and I believe he capably demonstrated strong leadership during a historic phase of development and progress at FAMU. His resignation is a personal decision, but I suspect that it is one that he is making not for his own best interests but for the best interests of the future of the university,” Williams said.

    FAMU Palm Beach County Alumni Association President Nicole Jones told The Palm Beach Post she fears that Ammons’ legacy will be eclipsed by the tragedy surrounding Champion’[s death.

    “No matter who was in charge at that point in time, the magnitude of issues pretty much made it difficult for him to continue to be president,” said Jones a 2000 FAMU grad.

    Lawyers for the family of Robert Champion Jr. say the university was negligent in handling the culture of hazing at FAMU that had infested the university for decades.

    The 33-page complaint points to violent incidents of campus hazing dating back to 1983. And most recently in November 2011, just three days before Champion’s death, Dean Henry Kirby recommended long-term suspension for the famed Marching 100  band because of hazing.

    That recommendation, says Attorney Chris Chestnut, was ignored.

    The lawsuit seeks damages greater than $15,000, but does not give a specific amount.

    “This is not about how much money we can get,” Chestnut said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Orlando. “It’s about  how many lives we can affect; how much change we can bring, and how many students we can save from hazing in the future.”

    While the spotlight has been on FAMU lately following Champion’s death and the revelation of similar incidents, Chestnut said hazing is not just something that happens at FAMU.

    “This is not just a FAMU problem,” he said. “This is not just a Florida problem. It’s an American problem.”
     

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