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FAMU president to stay in office during hazing probe

By Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 10:14 PM EST, Tue December 20, 2011
Marchers lead the funeral procession of FAMU drum major Robert Champion on November 30.
Marchers lead the funeral procession of FAMU drum major Robert Champion on November 30.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Rick Scott says he will abide by the decision
  • Florida A&M's Board of Trustees chooses not to vote on president's status
  • The death of drum major Robert D. Champion has been ruled a homicide
  • Scott says he was told of a child molestation case on campus

Tallahassee, Florida (CNN) -- Florida A&M University President James Ammons will stay in office during a hazing investigation, the school's board decided Monday.

The A&M board of trustees rejected a request from Gov. Rick Scott to suspend Ammons while officials probe various issues at the school, including the suspected hazing death of a band member.

"We will stand firm against outside influences which hinder the viability of the university," said Solomon Badger, the board's chairman.

"It requires us to rely on facts," he said.

The board chose not to vote on Ammons' status.

Ammons was not present for Monday's meeting, but took part by telephone.

On Friday, the medical examiner in Orange County, Florida, ruled that the death of 26-year-old Robert D. Champion was a homicide.

The report said Champion was beaten to death during a hazing incident in Orlando on Nov. 19.

No arrests have been made and the case remains under investigation, according to the Orange County Sheriff's office and the Orange County State Attorney's Office.

Champion's parent talked about the autopsy report to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Monday. Robert and Pam described the anguish they felt after finding out exactly what killed their son.

Parents of slain drum major speak

"To see the autopsy and the part where they hit him all over his body,' Champion's father said. "It's pretty painful to know my son had to go through something like that."

Champion's mother wants those involved to face criminal charges and be held accountable for their actions. But despite the tragedy of their son's death, the Champions aren't sure hazing will be considered a serious crime until tougher laws with strict penalties are put in place.

"We need laws that's going to make a person think of the actions," Champion's father said.

The Board also decided to meet weekly for informational reasons during this process.

Scott issued a statement saying, "For the sake of appearances, and to assure the public that these investigations are clearly independent, I believe it would have been in the best interest of Florida A&M University for President Ammons to step aside until all of these investigations are completed. However, we have a process in Florida for the administration of the State University System, and that process has been followed."

Scott said he will abide by the decision.

On Sunday, Scott said he was "disappointed in the direction the dialogue regarding the hazing-murder of a Florida A&M University student has taken."

"This week, I learned of reports of at least one child molestation case that took place on campus," Scott said, referring to a case unrelated to the hazing allegations. He added that Ammons told him he was not aware of the alleged incident until months after it occurred.

School trustees already have reprimanded Ammons and placed band director Julian White on administrative leave.

FAMU's National Alumni Association president said Sunday that Scott could place the school's accreditation in jeopardy by requesting Ammons' suspension.

Tommy Mitchell said the president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which oversees accreditation, warned Scott that school governing boards should be free of influence from government bodies. If the board suspends Ammons at Scott's direction, it could have unforeseen consequences for the university, he added.

"Gov. Scott should not be in the position of weakening the accreditation of our alma mater," Mitchell said.

Ammons met with Scott on Friday. After the meeting, he said the two had a "great conversation" and that both "have the interests of Florida A&M University at heart."

"The governor made a recommendation, and as governor, he can make a recommendation," the university president said Friday. "At the end of the day, it is up to the board of trustees. I will be right along with (their) decision."

Mitchell said the association's thoughts and prayers are with Champion's family. But he stressed that hazing is a national problem, and said deaths have occurred at other schools. Twelve to 13 deaths have occurred this year, he said, in Florida and other states, but did not provide specifics.

"Name another university that suspended a president for hazing -- and they have deaths every year," Mitchell said. "... Hazing has occurred all over the country. Deaths have occurred all over the country."

He questioned why the situation at Florida A&M is receiving so much attention, adding it may be an "HBCU (historically black college and university) problem."

In his statement Sunday, Scott said FAMU was not being singled out. He said he has called on all Florida universities to examine their hazing and harassment policies and requested that university presidents remind their students, faculty and staff "of how detrimental hazing can be."

Controversy has swirled around the Tallahassee university since Champion's death, including three arrests tied to the alleged hazing of a freshman band member a few weeks earlier.

And Jerry Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said last week that investigators looking into Champion's death have turned up evidence "that there were financial irregularities having to do with the band and several other components of the university." The suspected financial irregularities are not directly related to the death.

Champion's parents told CNN that several students have reached out to them since their son's death, but they have not talked to anyone from FAMU about the investigation or what the is doing to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

"I want to see what kinds of things they're planning on putting into place. Obviously, what they had in place is not working," Champion's mother said.

CNN's Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.

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