Spurning Governor, Florida A&M Declines to Suspend President in Student’s Death

December 20, 2011
By , The New York Times

MIAMI — Rebuffing the governor, Florida A&M’s board of trustees on Monday decided not to suspend the university’s president and asserted that it would “stand firm against outside influences, no matter how well intended.”

Solomon Badger, the chairman of the board, said the trustees would wait to decide whether to suspend the president, James. H. Ammons, until the end of criminal investigations into the Nov. 19 death of a marching band member, possibly from a hazing ritual, and potential fraud by university employees.

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott called for Mr. Ammons to be suspended pending the investigations.

The governor’s action prompted an outcry from university students and alumni who called it premature and unnecessary. Students held small protests over the weekend at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

But Mr. Scott, a Republican, said he had sought only to neutralize any conflict of interest that might arise from the investigation.

“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,” Mr. Scott said in a statement.

As the board contemplated its decision, it was also advised by the Southern Association of Colleges and the Schools Commission on Colleges that a hasty decision, taken at the governor’s behest, could affect the university’s accreditation by threatening its independence.

State Representative Mia L. Jones, chairwoman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and an alumna of the university, agreed.

The board should “be allowed to fulfill its duties in the manner outlined in Florida statues without influence from the legislative or executive branch of government,” said Ms. Jones, a Democrat.

Mr. Ammons fired the band director, Julian White, who had turned over documents that showed dozens of student suspensions for hazing. But Mr. Ammons was then told by law enforcement officials to freeze all personnel decisions pending the outcome of the investigation. As a result, Dr. White was placed on administrative leave; he is fighting to get his job back.

On Friday, nearly a month after the death of Robert Champion, 26, a drum major, the Orlando medical examiner ruled his death a homicide that resulted from “blunt-force trauma.” Mr. Champion also had bruises on his torso and arms, the coroner found.

Dr. White said students told him that Mr. Champion had been repeatedly punched as part of a hazing ritual. Mr. Champion collapsed in a parked bus shortly after the Florida Classic, a football game against Bethune-Cookman University.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/20/us/spurning-governor-scott-florida-am-declines-to-suspend-ammons.html

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