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Florida A&M band director abruptly retires; band's fate uncertain

May 10, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M University's Marching 100 band, is shown performing in November. Eleven band members have been charged with felony hazing in connection with his death.
Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M University's Marching… (Joseph Brown III / Tampa…)

The beleaguered director of Florida A&M University's marching band announced  Thursday that he was stepping down from the suspended marching unit even as Florida’s top state university official asked that the band be kept off the field because of a hazing scandal.

Eleven Florida A&M, or FAMU, band members have been charged with felony hazing in connection to the death of drum major Robert Champion in November. Known as the Marching 100, the band has been suspended, and director Julian White has been on administrative leave pending the results of ongoing investigations.

In a statement distributed by his lawyer, Chuck Hobbs, White announced his retirement after having “been a proud Rattler for more than half a century, first as a student member of the marching band and later as a drum major.”

“Dr. White remains a loyal FAMU Rattler and wishes his alma mater continued success in the future. He looks forward to spending more time with his family,” the statement noted.

There is no mention in the statement of the ongoing investigations at the school over hazing.

According to an investigation by the Associated Press, there were repeated warnings about the band's brutal hazing, but they were ignored by school officials. Police files show that since 2007, nearly two dozen incidents involving the band, fraternities and other student groups had been investigated, the AP reported.

White’s retirement comes as educators in Florida are trying to decide what to do with the marching band.

In a letter to FAMU President James Ammons, State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan wrote that the school should not consider reinstating the Marching 100. In addition to the hazing scandal, Brogan cited a criminal investigation into “financial irregularities” with the band.

“Please know that the Board of Governors and I remain committed to Florida A&M University,” Brogan wrote. “At the same time, our concerns continue to mount regarding the ever increasing body of issues that harm the institution, its students and, therefore, our State University System as a whole.”

Ammons is expected to discuss the band at an upcoming special meeting of the university board of trustees.

Pam Champion, the victim's mother, has said that the band should be disbanded. The Champion family has announced that it plans to sue the university.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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