University President Talks with Famuan about Marching ‘100,’ Finances, Student Participation

Florida A&M’s Marching “100” will not be returning to the field again for any reason for at least another year. This was FAMU President James H. Ammons‘ response to the Famuan Monday when this newspaper asked whether he would think about lifting the band’s suspension for the 2012-2013 school year early. 

Inside the president’s conference room in Lee Hall, the Famuan talked with Ammons for nearly half an hour Monday afternoon following his announcement to the university’s Board of Trustees in the morning that the Marching “100” would remain suspended throughout the next school year.

(Robert Champion was 26 years old.)

It follows the ongoing investigation into the hazing-turned-homicide of FAMU drum major Robert Champion who was “pummeled to death” last November, according to the state attorney’s office.

“There is no consideration to bring them back sooner,” Ammons told this newspaper with a lawyer from the university’s Office of General Counsel and head of the communications office Sharon Saunders present. “During that period, there will be the implementation of measures to ensure that the band operates in a way that is representative of Florida A&M.”

He asserted that the university needs to take greater control over the workings of the band — from term limits (currently there are no limits to the number of years that someone can march) to intervention in possibly destructive behavior. 

“For instance how long can a student play in the band? How many years should a student play in the band?” Ammons said. “These and other measures must be implemented, and we see the impact on student musicians who are in the band, before the suspension is lifted.”


See part one of The Famuan’s exclusive interview with FAMU President James Ammons:


FAMU’s decision comes just days after a revelation by the university’s Board of Trustees that 101 band members and a cheerleader were not enrolled at FAMU during the Nov. 19, 2011, Florida Classic in Orlando when Champion was killed in a hazing ritual known as “Crossing ‘Bus C.'” Former band director Julian White had last week also said that immediately reinstating the band would not “be prudent.”

It has been nearly two weeks since State Attorney Lawson Lamar announced charges against 13 people — 11 for felony hazing involvement. All of the 11 have since surrendered to authorities. The status of the two who were being sought for misdemeanor hazing remains unknown.

(FAMU faculty members Anthony Simons (left) and Diron Holloway were suspended for allegedly participating in hazing. They have not been charged.)

In the fallout of the investigation, FAMU suspended two music professors who were allegedly involved in a hazing incident

An investigation by Florida’s Board of Governors revealed that the university had received multiple complaints of hazing within the band, including a complaint just days before Champion was killed


The financial implications

A football season without FAMU’s band means less money for the university from missed performances and possibly defaulting on contractual obligations that might put FAMU on the receiving end of a civil suit. 

Ammons acknowledged that FAMU could lose some money, but he insisted, “The image of the university outweighs the financial impact of not having the Marching ‘100.’” 

“We’re trying to get a good projection on what the financial impact will be,” Ammons said, mentioning one contracted performance that might result in a loss for FAMU


New Members

Ammons had, in January, barred student organizations from accepting new members for the Spring semester. He was noncommittal when asked whether clubs would again be allowed to solicit new memberships in the fall. 

He stipulated that clubs need to undergo “significant leadership training” and that advisers need to know they must remain “accountable” before intake will be allowed again.

“We have to be convinced that this is not going to happen before student intake resumes,” Ammons said. “It is so important that students… have the ability to determine what’s right and what’s wrong… We are going to be depending on them after investing all of the time and these resources in the training and these seminars for training in what is right.”

Ammons did, however, assure that it would be possible for all clubs and organizations besides the Marching “100” to get new members once all the conditions have been met.


125th anniversary

The university’s 125th anniversary celebrations are scheduled to begin in a few months. Without the band, Ammons acknowledged that putting on the event will be a “huge challenge.”

(The university is using this logo to promote its 125th anniversary on its website.)

“That is going to be a huge void that we’re going to have to  figure out on how we fill,” he said. “Probably one thing that is keeping [the organizing committee] busiest is figuring out how to do this with the ‘100.’”





Band scholarships

Ammons assured that the university will continue financing the education of music students who are on band scholarships provided they meet one condition: Keeping their grades up. 

The university only plans to make one change at the music department. Instead of one person, two people will fill the jobs of chair of the music department and director of bands.

(Former band director Julian White ended his pending lawsuit against the university when he formally retired last week.)

Former band director Julian White had occupied both posts until November following the death of 26-year-old Champion. The university fired White quickly after Champion’s death, but the Florida Department reversed that and all other decisions rendered as punishment for the killing pending the results of the criminal investigation. Until last week, he was planning to fight the university to get his job back. 

This interview with White came from the News Service of Florida through his lawyer’s office:

In an email to this newspaper on Monday, his lawyer’s office said, “Dr. White’s decision to retire ends the pending lawsuit for the initial wrongful termination action.”


Serious scholars will come

FAMU’s Marching “100” is among the university’s most consistent recruitment tools. For years, the university’s annual summer band camp has drawn dozens of high school musicians — many of whom later choose FAMU for college. Coming off a year of record enrollment in Fall 2010/Spring 2011, the Famuan asked the university president for his thoughts on recruitment in, at least, the year to come.  

Ammons said the university continued to produce top-performing students, and that “serious scholars” who want to do well will come to FAMU.

“The academic brand of FAMU is as solid as ever… top companies still have a beaten path to FAMU,” Ammons said.

He continued: “I think those students who are serious scholars and who want to be a difference maker in their professional lives and who want to get to a point where they live the good life, they are going to want to come to FAMU. I think people who are not as serious… they are going to want to go somewhere  else.”


The road ahead

Ammons lamented the hazing death, calling it “heart-wrenching” and a “tragedy.” 

He continued: “I think though that one of the things this going to happen is that we’re going to develop some expertise on hazing… and I think that FAMU is going to be thrust into a position of leadership in this national dialog on how to eradicate hazing… It is a very difficult time both for the Champion family and for the FAMU community.”

(Note: Ammons, on advice of counsel, declined to answer a question about whether he had considered resigning in the fallout from this case.)