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FAMU still dealing with fallout from hazing death
Drum major » Marching band remains suspended for the coming year as 11 students head to trial.
First Published Jul 12 2012 02:01 pm • Last Updated Jul 12 2012 02:02 pm

Tallahassee, Fla. • The fallout from the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major appears unlikely to end soon.

University leaders will hold an emergency meeting next week to start the search for a new president after James Ammons, the president since 2007, abruptly resigned Wednesday.

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Ammons had vowed a month ago to remain at his job, despite a no-confidence vote from trustees in June.

"This is unexpected, this is unanticipated," said Rufus Montgomery, a FAMU board member who had expressed doubts about Ammons’ job performance.

Meanwhile, the famed Marching 100 band remains suspended for the coming year. And the university is dealing with a deficit in its athletic program, which has traditionally relied on the band to help draw large crowds to football games.

In October, 11 students will head to trial on charges related to the death of Robert Champion. The 26-year-old was fatally beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game against the school’s archrival.

Montgomery and other trustees agreed late Wednesday to hold the emergency meeting to discuss finding a replacement for Ammons and the specific terms of his resignation. Even though Ammons’ contract allows him to stay on the job 90 days, some board members said they still want to discuss how active a role he will play at the school.

Ammons, in a letter to the chairman of the university’s governing board, said he plans to exercise a provision in his contract that allows him to remain at the school as a member of the faculty.

An alumnus and former top administrator of the school, Ammons was first hired five years ago to help steady FAMU in the wake of financial woes and threats to its accreditation.

But Champion’s death on Nov. 19 put a spotlight on a hazing culture that he and other top FAMU officials had been unable to eradicate.

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Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion’s hazing. They have pleaded not guilty.

Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.

Ammons did not explain why he chose Oct. 11 as his final day, or why he chose to announce his resignation Wednesday, the same day Champion’s parents, Robert and Pamela Champion of Decatur, Ga., sued the university.

In his resignation letter, Ammons said his decision came after "considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family."

He acknowledged "new challenges that must be met head on" at the university, but his letter did not mention Champion directly.

Still, the Champions applauded the move.

"Before the school can move forward, they have to do house cleaning," said Pamela Champion. "That means taking care of the entities that are there in order to prevent something like this from happening again."

FAMU math professor Calvin Robinson called Ammons’ resignation "the worst news I’ve heard."

"I’m a second-generation Rattler," he said, referring to the nickname given to school alumni and students. "This is like the darkest day. ... Ever since Nov. 19 I saw this pressure coming, but I was hoping they’d realize the better strength of this man."

Given the intense pressure Ammons had been under, his move was not completely unexpected.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott at one point had recommended that Ammons be suspended from the job while investigations of Champion’s hazing death were under way, a move that brought a nighttime protest outside the governor’s mansion from hundreds of FAMU students.

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