TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M University’s famed marching band is being suspended until 2013.
FAMU President James Ammons told the school’s board of trustees on Monday that he will keep The Marching 100 off the field for the upcoming school year.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges stemming from the death of drum major Robert Champion in November. Two others face misdemeanor counts. Ammons suspended the band soon after Champion’s death, but his death exposed a culture of hazing within the band.
Ammons said he could not allow the band to return until the university has hired a new band director and has adopted new rules regarding how the band will operate – including who should be eligible to perform.
“I think there is a period we should take that these measures are in place and we have addressed all the institutional issues,” Ammons said.
Last week it was revealed that 101 band members were not FAMU students at the time of Champion’s death. Longtime band director Julian White, who had been fighting to keep his job, abruptly decided to retire.
Top state officials including Gov. Rick Scott and the university system chancellor say the Marching 100 should remain sidelined until other ongoing investigations into the band are completed.
The Marching 100 has had a rich history as it has played at Super Bowls and in inauguration parades. The band has been one of the main draws during FAMU football games, and some board members on Monday wanted to know if the decision to keep the band off the field this fall would impact ticket sales.
Ammons tried to fire White last November. But White’s dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded. He insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated.
That changed last week after Ammons told trustees that three of those charged in Champion’s death weren’t FAMU students at the time.
Meanwhile, state authorities continue to investigate the band’s finances.
Frank Brogan, the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, wrote a blunt letter last week urging Ammons to keep the band suspended while the investigations continue. The state university system has its own probe into whether FAMU officials ignored past warnings about hazing.
Brogan told Ammons that “reinstating the band prior to these efforts being resolved would side-step efforts under way, which could impact the band’s long-term survival.”
He added that both he and the state panel that oversees the overall university system were worried that “concerns continue to mount regarding the ever-increasing body of issues that harm the institution, its students, and therefore our state university system as a whole.”
Pam Champion, the mother of Robert Champion, has said that the band should be disbanded so the university can “clean house.” She and the family’s attorney contend there is a vast effort among students and others to cover up who is responsible for her son’s death.
The Champion family has already told FAMU it plans to sue the university. FAMU set up a task force to look at hazing, although the panel has not met since a flare-up over whether it should follow the state’s open meetings laws. Several members have since resigned.