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Hazing death leading to wide changes at FAMU

TALLAHASSEE Florida A&M University is planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of efforts to revamp the school after the hazing death of a school drum major.

Trustees and top officials of the university said Wednesday that they are taking steps to deal with a culture of hazing they called a significant disease that is harming the universitys reputation.

The changes are coming at a critical time for the university, which has garnered national attention through appearances by its famed Marching 100 band at Super Bowls and inaugurations.

FAMU President James Ammons is coming under fire from some outside the university for his performance, enrollment for the coming year is down, and the university wants to launch a major fundraising campaign in the coming year.

The university athletic program, which has been grappling with a deficit, must also figure out how to fill the football stands this fall even though the band has been suspended for the coming year.

Ammons told trustees during an all-day retreat that responding to the beating death of Robert Champion and the deeply ingrained hazing culture at the school has proven to be the most challenging issue of his career.

I am deeply concerned about the culture at Florida A&M University, Ammons said. I am deeply concerned about the image of our university…I know we have ahead of us a big task of restoring the trust and confidence in this university to provide a safe environment for our students.

Champion died last November after being beaten in a band bus outside an Orlando hotel. Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in the hazing.

Ammons suspended The Marching 100 late last year, but last month he announced he was continuing the suspension for the coming year. University officials acknowledged that the ongoing suspension has not been popular with music students nor with those in the local community who are long-time fans of the school and the band.

I dont want to underestimate the significance of that move, said trustee Kelvin Lawson. It feels good in here, but out beyond these walls and in this community that is a pretty major decision.

University trustees on Wednesday heard plans drawn up by Ammons and his staff to deal with hazing and the band over the next year.

Plans include tough new eligibility and academic requirements for members of the band modeled on NCAA requirements for athletes, as well as limits on practice time and new requirements for supervision.

FAMU also would no longer allow students from other schools in Tallahassee to perform with The Marching 100. It was revealed last month that 101 members on the 457-member band roster were not FAMU students. FAMU briefly did bar students from other schools but Ammons himself agreed to lift that restriction when he became president in 2007.

It didnt work the way it was laid out to work, said Ammons, acknowledging that there was abuses in those who were allowed to join the band.

Ammons said a new four-year eligibility requirement would apply to students already in the band, while a new 2.5 grade point average requirement will be placed on incoming students. He acknowledged that those moves likely will make the famed band much smaller than it has been.