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FAMU Band Director Fired

5:50 PM, Nov 24, 2011   |    comments
Robert Champion
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Four days after a Florida A&M drum major died following a suspected hazing incident, university President James H. Ammons on Wednesday fired the director of the famed Marching 100, Julian White.
"While Dr. White has had a distinguished career in music education and administration within the university as director of bands," Ammons said, "I did not feel there was competence involving reporting allegations of hazing within the Department of Music and the Marching 100."
White, a FAMU graduate who joined the music faculty nearly 40 years ago and took over as director of bands in 1998, said Ammons gave him the choice to resign or be fired. White could not be reached for further comment an hour later, after Ammons announced his termination effective Dec. 22.
Until then, White will be on paid administrative leave and is barred from returning to his office or other campus work areas.
"I admire and respect Dr. White for his body of work," Ammons said. "I just didn't think that we had the kind of controls and accountability that we need to have in those bands and those organizations under his supervision."
Gov. Rick Scott also on Wednesday requested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement assist in the investigation of Robert Champion's death in Orlando on Saturday after FAMU's annual Florida Classic football game.
In a letter to FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, Scott said Champion's death has "generated great concern throughout the state and indeed, the nation."
"While I recognize that the investigation into the death of Mr. Champion is being handled by the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the reality is that the death investigation significantly impacts the university, the Tallahassee community, and the State of Florida as a whole," Scott wrote. "With this in mind, I believe it to be appropriate that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement become involved in investigating this matter."
Ammons said he looks forward to FDLE's involvement.
"We want answers," he said. "I welcome FDLE to this investigation to get to the bottom of this."
As the law enforcement investigation continues, former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Quincy Police Department Chief Walt McNeil, will co-chair an independent eight-member task force charged by Ammons to determine if a culture of hazing exists within the band program.
Both men served as state department secretaries under former Gov. Charlie Crist. Butterworth, widely respected statewide, is credited for improving the crisis-ridden Department of Children and Families. McNeil, a Tallahassee's police chief for nearly 10 years, led both the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice.
"(The) task force is going to look at and help us determine whether there are patterns of behavior by the band that should be addressed at the institutional level," Ammons said. "I believe we are going to get to the root cause of why, when we know it is illegal and has serious consequences, our students still engage in this egregious practice."
Ammons said Butterworth and McNeil will be joined on the task force by: former state senator Al Lawson; retired Miami Herald editor Joe Oglesby; Tallahassee attorney Daryl Parks; former Florida Commission on Human Relations executive director Derick Daniel; former executive assistant to the president at Florida State Freddie L. Groomes-McLendon and John Thomas, director of communications and political initiatives at the Florida League of Cities.
"I commend Dr. Ammons for taking swift and quick action to look at what is happening at the university and to prevent this tragedy from ever occurring again," Butterworth said. "There is zero-tolerance for this kind of behavior. If it has been ongoing, I hope we can help make sure it is stopped. Period."
A FAMU student and former band member, who requested his name not be used, said groups within the band frequently haze as an initiation for new members. The student said there are a myriad of band fraternities and some have groups within groups.
Inter-band fraternities -- including a clarinet section called "The Clones" and an Atlanta-based group called the "Red Dawgs Organization" -- are responsible for the majority of the hazing within the band, the student said.
Other groups include the "Soulful Saxes," the "Killer Clydesdales," the "The Sounds of Thunder" in percussion, and "The Circle," a group within "The Sounds of Thunder."
The student said Champion, who is from Atlanta and was a clarinet player before he became a drum major, was not a part of the "The Clones."
At least two other possible hazing incidents that occurred this semester are being investigated by the FAMU Police Department. White said 30 band members were suspended in the wake of the allegations and did not perform at the annual Florida Classic.
On Tuesday, Ammons indefinitely suspended all performances by the Marching 100 or any other music department groups.
Ammons said he was made aware of those hazing allegations, and top administration officials met twice last week with band members and staff before the Classic to impress upon them that no such activity would be tolerated.
"I didn't want anything to happen regarding hazing, and here we are," Ammons said.
In Champion's case, Orange County Sheriff's Office investigators first found no foul play, but later determined that hazing was involved in events leading up to the 26-year-old's collapse on a band bus outside an Orlando hotel. He died an hour later.
Autopsy results were inconclusive, and more medical tests are planned. The Orange County Medical Examiner's Office said Wednesday it could take up to three months before a cause of death is known.
Butterworth said Ammons told him the task force will be given whatever resources it needs to determine the truth.
"This is very, very serious and the president is taking it with the seriousness that it deserves," Butterworth said. "There are no restraints on what we do."
Ammons said he hopes the task force can convene as early as next week.
"We are going to eradicate hazing on this campus," he said. "We have worked so hard to repair the brand of Florida A&M University, and to have this kind of activity going on -- it has to stop."
-- Reporter Jordan Culver and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Tallahassee Democrat

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