We agree with the parents of murdered Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, the victim of senseless hazing, that university president James Ammons should be held accountable in their son’s death. Their son’s death has been ruled a homicide by an Orange County Florida medical examiner. Champion died while traveling with the famed “Marching 100” band during a trip to Orlando. His death is just the latest in a pattern of hazing and violence that has been associated with FAMU’s band. Just recently another incident came to light involving an injury to a female band member and several students were arrested in connection with that case. The student victimized by the most recent alleged hazing suffered blood clots and a cracked thigh from the hands of three males.
While Florida A&M University immediately penalized the band’s longtime director, the university leadership shamelessly deflected any criticism and failed to hold the school’s administration accountable. In an act of unmitigated arrogance the FAMU Board chairman Solomon Badger declared “We will stand firm against outside interference, no matter how well intended” against public calls for president James Ammons to be held accountable and Florida Governor Rick Scott’s suggestion that Ammons face suspension. Many of FAMU’s students and alumni also rushed to Ammons defense, wrapping the president in an undeserved cloak of protection. Their behavior is no better than that of Penn State students who rallied to the defense of former head football coach Joe Paterno in the face of serious charges of child abuse against one of his longtime assistants and evidence that the famed coach did little to inform authorities of what he knew regarding coach Jerry Sandusky. The claim that Ammons should be spared because he shepherded the school through its financial difficulties is ludicrous.
It is one thing for the Florida A&M University Trustees to fail in their responsibility as the guardians of the institution but quite another for Ammons to wash his hands of any responsibility for the hazing that occurs within his institution. As the leader of one of the nation’s most well-known and storied historically Black colleges, James Ammons needs to exhibit true leadership and set an example for the FAMU student body. As a matter of decency, and in respect to the death of one of the university’s students, Ammons should take a voluntary leave of absence. This institution is far more important than the career of any one individual, no matter if he occupies the president’s office. We are suffering as a community as a result of the selfishness and ethical failures of institutional leadership.
This should not be a moment of cultural obtuseness, when we circle the wagons around an individual for the sake of protecting some warped sense of racial pride. The death of Robert Champion is an ugly and vile reminder of the violence we inflict on each other. It is the “dark” side of our existence that is seen in bullying in schools, guns, gangs and domestic violence. We are killing ourselves and when violence and death becomes part of “tradition” on a college campus, we have hit rock bottom. We could care less with protecting reputations or traditions. It is time for this stupidity to stop. And if those in positions of power do not act responsibly and show real leadership, they should be shown the door.
The college experience should be many things for students. One thing it should not be is a test for survival. Robert Champion deserved better in life and he certainly deserves better in death. Florida A&M University’s leadership failed Robert when he was alive, they betrayed the trust of his parents, and they are making a mockery of his death by their self-serving behavior.