FAMU says it's making big changes to battle hazing

Published On: Jan 30 2013 04:42:18 PM EST
Updated On: Jan 25 2013 02:00:12 PM EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Florida A&M University is making sweeping changes to battle hazing at the school, the university contends in a 27-page document released this week.

The university laid out the changes in response to a blistering report issued late last year that concluded university officials had failed to follow state laws and regulations regarding hazing before the death of 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion.

DOCUMENT: Preliminary investigation of FAMU's pre-2012 anti-hazing program

The school asserts it is altering admission requirements for its famed Marching 100 band and adopting a major anti-hazing plan. FAMU also is hiring additional employees, including an anti-hazing administrator.

"We have implemented a number of actions to address the issues in the report and beyond," interim FAMU president Larry Robinson said in a statement.

The Florida Board of Governors - which oversees the state university system - ordered an investigation by its inspector general shortly after Champion's death in Nov. 2011. He died after he was beaten as part of a hazing ritual aboard a band bus in Orlando. More than 12 people have been charged in connection with his death and The Marching 100 band has been suspended since then.

The inspector general's report issued more than a year later concluded the school lacked internal controls to prevent or detect hazing, citing a lack of communication among top university officials, the police department and the office responsible for disciplining students

The report found that hazing complaints were not routinely forwarded to the school's judicial affairs office for review or disciplinary action, band member eligibility was seldom verified, there was no central database to track hazing complaints, and there was no communication between police and the school's judicial affairs office.

For example, nine hazing cases investigated by FAMU police were never referred back to the judicial affairs office to see whether student conduct rules were violated.

FAMU's response points out how the inspector general's report "does not constitute an expert opinion" on hazing and that there have been hazing-related deaths across the country since Champion died.

The university also disputed a few facts in the report, contending that its student judicial office did act on hazing cases it received from the police. But most of the university response points out all the steps that FAMU has taken in the aftermath of Champion's death.

The official FAMU response, however, differs from a court filing that attorneys for the school made last week in Orlando.

Lawyers for the Champion family filed the inspector general report as part of its lawsuit contending that the school failed to take action to stop hazing before Champion died. Champion's parents live in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Ga.

Former state Supreme Court justice Charles Wells, however, filed a motion on behalf of FAMU asking the court to block the use of the report, which he characterized as "incompetent, unauthenticated and inadmissible hearsay."

In September, FAMU asked a judge to throw out the Champion family lawsuit, saying it should be dismissed on several grounds, including that Champion should have refused to participate in hazing events. The university then offered $300,000 to settle the lawsuit but the offer was rejected by the family.

Wells, in his court filing, states that the decision by Champion's attorney to file the report is a "transparent" attempt to influence the university's request to dismiss the lawsuit.

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