FAMU band leader fights to keep job

Florida A&M University's band director, Julian E. White, was fired this week following the death of a drum major.

Story highlights

  • The band director at Florida A&M challenges pending dismissal
  • A 26-year-old drum major became ill and died after a game
  • At least 30 band members were let go this semester because of alleged hazing
An attorney for Florida A&M University's longtime band director, Julian E. White, said his client has demonstrated "exemplary" anti-hazing leadership and should not be dismissed following the death of a drum major.
In a letter Friday to FAMU President James H. Ammons, attorney Charles E. "Chuck" Hobbs III said White's reports and suspensions related to hazing have not always been met with suspensions from the university or action by law enforcement.
Ammons moved Wednesday to fire White, who had led the 420-member band since 1998.
"The reason for this intended employment action is based upon your alleged misconduct and/or incompetence involving confirmed reports and allegations of hazing with the Department of Music and the 'Marching 100,'" Ammons said in a letter to White.
The dismissal came four days after the death. Band members had returned to their Orlando hotel following a game last Saturday. There, Robert Champion, 26, "reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe," the sheriff's office said in a release. Champion was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Florida A&M University student Robert Champion, 26, became ill and died Saturday night.
Ammons' letter notified White that he was being dismissed effective December 22 and placed on administrative leave, with pay, effective immediately. The letter was provided to CNN by the university.
Hobbs' letter said White has had many honors while holding his "dream position."
"Dr. White has been at the vanguard of implementing measures to eliminate hazing within the Marching 100 over the past 22 years," it read. "From an administrative standpoint .... hazing within the Marching 100 has often been met with reckless indifference by White's superior officers, who often ignored his requests for assistance or who privately lauded his decisions to suspend members from the band for hazing while failing to ensure that hazers were either charged with applicable criminal offenses or expelled."
In addition, Hobbs wrote, White is a fully tenured professor entitled to due process. He argued there are no grounds for White being dismissed for "just cause."
On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey asking the department to join the investigation "to assure that the circumstances leading to Mr. Champion's death become fully known, and that if there are individuals directly or indirectly responsible for this death, they are appropriately brought to justice and held accountable."
Authorities have not said what happened to Champion. A spokeswoman for the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office said Wednesday that the autopsy had not been completed and that no cause of death was available.
Under Florida law, any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third-degree felony.
After the incident, Ammons suspended band performances and said he will convene a task force "to determine if there are any unauthorized and questionable activities associated with the culture of the Marching 100."
Ammons acknowledged that at least 30 band members were let go this semester because of possible involvement in hazing.