FAMU Pitches Costly Plan to Fix University in Fallout from Robert Champion’s Hazing Death

Florida A&M administrators want to invest more than $1 million more to restore the university’s tattered image following the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

President James H. Ammons and members of his management team Wednesday pitched to the Board of Trustees a costly plan to revamp the university — from adding more staff, to contracting prominent speakers for student events, to powering a special website devoted to fighting hazing.

“We have a big task in restoring the trust and confidence in this university to provide a safe environment for students,” Ammons said in a brief presentation to trustees.

In addition to massive student outreach, the administrators plan to hire a special assistant for hazing, who will report directly to Ammons, and a compliance officer for the music department at a cost of close to $300,000. Administrators want another $800,000 to launch a campaign at repairing the university’s image.

The university also plans to limit practice time and raise the bar for academic progress among band members.

Trustees barraged university officials with questions about the implementation of a so-called “Anti-Hazing Plan,” which was formulated with student, faculty and administrative input.Some trustees wanted stronger language in any anti-hazing agreements that students would sign before being allowed to join. Others asked for harsher policies to counter hazing among the student body.

On a Saturday night in Orlando, Champion, 26, died from injuries he sustained after a hazing ritual called “Crossing ‘Bus C.'” Since his Nov. 19, 2011, death, administrators have faced national scrutiny for what many term their lax responses to hazing reports and weak enforcement of hazing policies. The university has been running damage control in the intervening seven months, suspending the famed Marching “100” band at least until fall 2013 and suspending new member intake for student clubs and organizations during the Spring 2012 semester.

Provost Larry Robinson introduced the plan to trustees, saying that more stringent requirements for student musicians would ensure that they maintain academics while being in bands.

Among proposed changes are limiting practice time to 20 hours per week, mandating that only “full-time FAMU students” be allowed to march and setting “NCAA-like” standards for academic progress that stipulate benchmarks towards a degree. Robinson called the progression requirement “doing five years in four.”

“We just have to put some parameters to ensure students progress academically,” Robinson said.

Ammons told trustees that he expected a “smaller” band once the new academic requirements are set, but he predicted higher quality. “I have looked at the academic records of current band members,” he said, adding that with the new stipulations, “Many of them wouldn’t be in the band.”

The Marching “100” has more than 400 members. Last month, a board of trustees investigation found that 101 members of the band, including one cheerleader, were not enrolled at FAMU. Of that number, at least two are in custody for their alleged involvement in the Champion hazing-turned-homicide.