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FAMU puts band director's dismissal on hold

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:24 PM EST, Wed December 7, 2011
Julian White, Florida A&M University's director of bands, has been placed on leave but not fired.
Julian White, Florida A&M University's director of bands, has been placed on leave but not fired.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Band Director Julian White remains on administrative leave
  • "This is a step in the right direction," says White's lawyer
  • Robert Champion's death was hazing-linked, police say

(CNN) -- The director of bands at Florida A&M University has been placed on administrative leave with pay until completion of the investigation into the hazing-linked death of a 26-year-old drum major, the school said Wednesday.

Julian White had been suspended with termination scheduled for December 22, and four students had been dismissed from the school in the wake of the death of Robert Champion, the school had announced shortly after the November 19 incident.

In Wednesday's announcement, which came as a result of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommendation, FAMU said that it had placed White on administrative leave with pay on Monday, "until the completion of the investigation and rescinded the dismissal of four students who received disciplinary action as a result of activity surrounding the Robert Champion incident."

"Consistent with the commitment of the FAMU Board of Trustees and President Ammons to be fully cooperative, we are awaiting the outcome of the investigation before any personnel or disciplinary actions are taken," said FAMU spokeswoman Sharon P. Saunders in a statement. "We are honoring the recommendations of not only FDLE, but the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Board of Governors as we await the completion of their investigations."

Florida A&M University student Robert Champion, 26, became ill and died November 20.
Florida A&M University student Robert Champion, 26, became ill and died November 20.
Hazing part of band's history

White's attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said in a statement that the announcement was "a step in the right direction," but added, "We still believe that administrative leave with pay is tantamount to a form of discipline. We will continue exploring all legal options to have Dr. White fully reinstated as director of bands and to his position as full tenured professor and chair of the FAMU Department of Music."

In a telephone interview, Hobbs said his office had received a hand-delivered letter on Wednesday from FAMU, but that he was out of town and had not read it. "We'll take a look at what legal options we need to take" to get White reinstated, he said.

Though White remains remorseful about Champion's death, he also "remains firm in his belief that he followed university protocol and procedures and he has worked hard over the past 22 years to eliminate hazing from the band."

White has served as director of bands since 1998. "A dialogue of healing has begun, and I'm encouraged to see students, faculty, alumni, administrators and trustees taking steps to get rid of hazing," the band director said in a statement.

"Today I joined ministers and community members at a prayer service for the Champion family, the Marching 100, and for the FAMU Nation. I ask people to continue praying for the Champions and for the Rattler Nation, and I look forward to working with these groups to eradicate hazing on and off campuses throughout the country -- in Robert's name."

Wednesday's announcement came two days after hundreds of students gathered Monday on the Tallahassee, Florida, campus for an anti-hazing forum. Champion died after performing in a halftime performance at a football game in Orlando, Florida. No cause of death has been released, but police and university officials both have said they suspect Champion's death was caused by hazing.

The practice is considered a rite of passage in sororities and fraternities on campuses across the country; it is also banned by most universities and is a crime in the state of Florida.

Incidents of hazing have followed the FAMU band for years. In 2001, a student was paddled so badly he had to be hospitalized for kidney failure, and just weeks before Champion's death, White had suspended 26 members for hazing.

Champion's parents have accused the university of "turning a blind eye" to reports of hazing and have said the school must be held accountable for his death.

An attorney for the parents, Christopher Chestnut, has announced the Decatur, Georgia, family's intention to sue the school.

Once criminal investigations end, said Ammons, a task force would convene to determine whether current anti-hazing regulations, policies, practices and enforcement mechanisms at the university are consistent with best practices across the country.

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