Florida A&M President Suspends Band Through Next Year

Zuma Press, Newscom

The Marching 100 of Florida A&M U. performed at the Super Bowl in 2010. The prestigious band has a brutal hazing tradition, a former member says.
May 14, 2012

Florida A&M University has suspended its famed marching band, which has been embroiled in a hazing scandal, for the forthcoming academic year, the president, James H. Ammons, announced on Monday.

"More time is needed to develop a new set of guidelines before the band can be reinstated," Mr. Ammons said in a news conference with university trustees.

Florida A&M had suspended the Marching 100 indefinitely after the hazing death of a drum major, Robert Champion, in November. Since then the university's leaders have been deliberating the future of the band, debating whether to allow it to perform at football games and other events.

Thirteen students were criminally charged this month in connection with Mr. Champion's death, 11 of them with felony hazing. Meanwhile, other allegations of hazing have come up since the drum major was beaten unconscious on a bus during a band trip to Orlando. In recent days, it has surfaced that about 100 band members were not students at the time Mr. Champion died, including at least two of those charged with Mr. Champion's death.

Julian White, the band's director of nearly four decades, retired unexpectedly last week. Two music professors quit in recent weeks after reports that they had been present at a party where hazing took place.

Amid public outcry, as well as controversy on the campus, where the band reigns supreme, Florida A&M has brought in a committee of hazing experts to assess the band and its practices. "All weaknesses were evaluated, and we felt we needed a better monitoring system that will facilitate regular accountability of the band," said Narayan Persaud, a trustee at the university and a professor of sociology and criminal justice

The acclaimed Marching 100, which incorporates dance moves in its highly coordinated routines, is a source of pride for Florida A&M, a historically black institution. The band has played in inaugural parades for Presidents Clinton and Obama and in several Super Bowls.

On Monday, Mr. Ammons discussed the impact of the band's absence. He proposed a possible entertainment alternative: having high-school bands perform.

Aria Aaron, a rising senior at the university, thinks high-school bands are a viable option, but she's not enthusiastic. "I guess something is better than nothing," she said on Monday.

"Waiting another year is fair, but a lot of us want to move on," she said. "Many students want their band back."

A hazing-prevention expert praised suspending the band for at least another year. Tracy L. Maxwell, executive director and founder of HazingPrevention.Org, said the university must hold off for real solutions and change. "It takes a coordinated approach," she said. "We definitely have to be patient."

"Give it time, attention, and funding," was her advice to administrators at Florida A&M. "It's a cultural change, and that doesn't happen overnight."