Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees reversed the Anti-Hazing Committee’s decision to meet privately and without public notice.
The 8-2 vote Friday requires the AHC to be open and transparent to comply with Florida’s Sunshine Laws, enacted in 1967, regarding the public’s right of access to governmental meetings and records.
But the decision was not taken lightly by five of seven committee members, including the committee’s Chairman Stephen C. Robinson, who threatened to resign.
Robinson said the “daunting task” of realizing the AHC’s goals “would be hard, if not impossible, to complete” due to time constraints.
“Time is this committee’s enemy,” Robinson said. “The committee’s dysfunction is that you wanted high-quality, thoughtful work from us, not some quickly thrown-together piece that would not be helpful, thoughtful or able to stand serious scrutiny.”
He also said that because the committee members live in different states, they “must be allowed to communicate whenever and wherever they can find the convenient time to do so.”
Rufus Montgomery, a BOT member, told opposing members to “go ahead and resign,” and that the committee’s threats were “like a child not getting their way.”
“I don’t think, as a board, we should be held hostage under the threat of resignation from anyone,” Montgomery said.
Gov. Rick Scott emailed BOT Chairman Solomon “Chuck” Badger last Tuesday expressing “disappointment” in the changes of the AHC’s mission.
“I am extremely concerned about the committee’s compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Laws,” Scott said. “If the committee meetings are conducted outside the Sunshine, the committee cannot legally offer any recommendations to the Board of Trustees on whether the university’s current anti-hazing policy and procedures are adequate to protect students.”
He also expressed concern about the changed mission’s “fact-finding” tactics, which no longer welcomes recommendations to stop hazing from experienced policy leaders, that “will not be conducted by sworn professionals skilled in that area.”
“While the members of the committee are experienced in various fields including education, research, hazing and psychology, none are professional investigators,” Scott said. He said he believes fact-finding should be performed by sworn officers or experienced investigators following a uniform process.
The BOT initially approved the committee’s plan during a March 23 telephone meeting with a 7-3 vote to focus on fact finding that would allow members to discuss their work outside of public meetings.
Belinda Reed Shannon, a BOT member and the board’s liaison, said the committee discussed the “best operational approach” to meet its goals and unanimously desired a change in its original mission, provided Jan. 2.
Shannon, quoting Robinson, said, “In order for the Anti-Hazing Committee to take full advantage of the talents and expertise of all of its members, and to accomplish its work in as expeditious fashion as possible, the Anti-Hazing Committee members need the ability to speak with one another spontaneously and on a continuous basis.”
The committee, formed after drum major Robert Champion’s death, said its goal is to provide information to the BOT to analyze and make recommendations to administration to “develop and implement policies and strategies as quickly as possible.”
The AHC requested the change during its first meeting on March 16. Trustee Narayan Persaud, a professor and chair of FAMU’s Sociology and Criminal Justice Department, found request “very disturbing.”
“In an already financial overburdened climate,” Persaud said, “Are we going to place additional financial burden of the university? And last but not least, despite years and years of focusing on hazing, I don’t know of any institution that has the problem [hazing] eliminated through the action of a group of experts.”
Some students were also wary of the change, but understood the purpose of the decision.
“I know a lot of people are upset that they are trying to keep things under wraps, but I get the point of what they’re trying to do,” said Kamilah Briscoe, 19, a second-year pre-med student from Ft. Lauderdale. “It’s a way for them to be productive without having to answer to every question or concern.”
Robinson said the committee’s decision “has never been about secrecy.”
“To suggest that the committee was acting so as to dodge a Sunshine Law is not only misinformed, but it is unfair to the dedicated men and women who have agreed to serve on this committee,” Robinson said.
President James H. Ammons supports the BOT’s decision.
“I look forward to the FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee providing invaluable insight as we all work together to eradicate hazing,” Ammons said, according to famu.edu.