TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The president of Florida A&M University submitted his resignation Wednesday, the same day the university was sued by the parents of a drum major who died during a hazing. It was unclear if the two events were related.
James Ammons announced the resignation, which takes effect Oct. 11, in a letter to the chairman of the university’s governing board. He said his decision came after “considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family.”
The parents of Robert Champion, the drum major who was killed, applauded the move, calling it part of a necessary “house cleaning” at the university.
The college’s board of trustees voted to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss a replacement and the specific terms of Mr. Ammons‘ resignation.
The president’s departure is the latest in a series of blows to the university that has seen its image badly bruised by Champion’s death, the suspension of the band until 2013 and the springtime resignation of its veteran director.
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. Their trial is scheduled to begin the same month as Mr. Ammons‘ resignation, in October.
Dreams of playing in the now-disgraced Marching 100 band used to draw students to apply to the university as much if not more than the school’s academic program, and the same professional performances that led it to play at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations were a huge attendance draw at football games.
An alumnus and former top administrator of the school, Mr. Ammons was first hired to help steady FAMU in the wake of financial woes and threats to its accreditation.
But Champion’s death put a spotlight on a hazing culture that he and other top FAMU officials have been unable to eradicate.
Mr. Ammons suspended the band right after Champion’s death. He announced in May that the suspension would stay in effect for at least one more school year as officials moved ahead with trying to eliminate the hazing culture that surrounded the band.
Veteran band director Julian White was fired last year, but then his dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded. He insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated. He changed his mind in May and decided to retire after it was revealed that at least 100 band members were not students when Champion died.
The school’s trustees gave Mr. Ammons a vote of no-confidence in June, after questioning his leadership in several areas, including what some saw as his lax attitude toward hazing and management of the band prior to Mr. Champion’s death in November.
Mr. Champion died in November after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game against the school’s archrival.
His death cast an unwelcome spotlight on the FAMU athletic department, which was already grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit.