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FAMU board reprimands president in hazing-linked death case

By Michael Martinez and John Couwels
updated 4:38 PM EST, Thu December 8, 2011
Authorities are investigating the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, 26.
Authorities are investigating the death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, 26.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FAMU trustees opt to reprimand president instead of putting him on administrative leave
  • "We generally punted on this issue," a trustee says
  • Authorities are investigating death of drum major Robert Champion, 26

Orlando, Florida (CNN) -- The Florida A&M University Board of Trustees reprimanded the school's president Thursday for his actions in the aftermath of the suspected hazing-related death of a 26-year-old drum major.

The trustees also voted to allocate money to hire a public relations firm to represent the board during the hazing controversy.

By an 8-4 vote, the board chose to reprimand President James Ammons instead of putting him on administrative leave as administrators have done to the band's director, Julian White.

During the board meeting, FAMU Trustee Rufus Montgomery proposed administrative leave for Ammons because he said the university "did not act" following the death of Robert Champion, who died last month after a halftime performance in a football game in Orlando, Florida.

But Montgomery dropped the proposal, and the board delivered a reprimand instead.

As he argued to put Ammons on leave, Montgomery noted how the board of governors of the State University System of Florida took action before the university's trustees could.

"It's been 19 days since the death of a student occurred, a death of a student that was in our structure of authority. I'm being advised don't say anything that could put us in a bad position here or there. What is right is right," Montgomery told the board Thursday.

Hazing part of band's history

"This student was under our care, under our authority. We did not act, we did not meet, we generally punted on this issue," Montgomery added.

"I'm of the opinion the (State University System of Florida) Board of Governors stepped in to fill the vacuum, when they did not have to. I believe that had we shown action -- prudent actions -- there would not have been a cause for them to have an investigation because we would have been conducting ourselves in a sound manner. The board of governors stepped in in an attempt to do our job," he said.

No cause of death has been released in Champion's case, but police and university officials both have said they suspect it was related to hazing.

Prior to Montgomery's remarks, Ammons said his administration took "these occurrences very seriously."

"We have taken all the actions that are part of policies, practices and procedures in dealing with allegations of hazing. Once allegations of hazing are (determined to be) true, they are immediately referred to our police department if it occurs on campus or to the Tallahassee Police Department if it occurs off campus," Ammons said.

Ammons said his administrators have "cooperated fully" with Orange County Sheriff's investigators and added that the school has provided grief counselors to the student body and heightened anti-hazing awareness.

White, who has served as director of bands since 1998, was placed on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is complete.

The university rescinded its earlier decision to suspend him, with termination scheduled for December 22.

The school also reversed an earlier decision to dismiss four students "who received disciplinary action regarding a hazing incident with Mr. Champion," Ammons said.

CNN's John Couwels reported from Orlando, Florida, and Michael Martinez from Los Angeles.

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