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FAMU president cancels meeting with newspaper amid questions over drum major's death

FAMU President James Ammons canceled a Tuesday interview with the editorial board of the Tallahassee Democrat following the death of a drum major after a Nov. 19 football game, the paper reported this afternoon.

He cited legal advice and the ongoing investigation into the death of Robert Champion, which authorities have said followed an undescribed hazing activity. Read background about the fallout from his death and the subsequent firing of the longtime FAMU band director, who wants his job back. A cause of death may not be known for three months.

Ammons a provided a statement to the paper in which he stressed the culture of hazing at the university will change and that he will meet with the student body at some point next week. A copy of Ammons' statement to the paper was posted on the FAMU website. It reads as follows:

"Upon the advice of counsel, I will provide these limited statements in light of the obvious pending criminal matters and in anticipation of litigation.

There are some issues that I am not going to be able to go into any detail about -- and there are some questions that I am not going to be able to answer, at this time.

But here's what I want you and the world to know. Hazing is completely against the law -- and, it's a violation of FAMU BOT Regulations. More than that, it is an infringement on the basic human rights of any and all individuals.

Our first priority -- and my resolute commitment -- at Florida A&M University are to protect and to ensure the health, safety and well being of every individual: students, faculty, staff and visitors.

We want all of the facts and all of the truth regarding the death of Robert Champion. And we will take appropriate steps to get justice for Mr. Champion -- and to institute a complete culture change. Toward that end, we are actively cooperating with the law enforcement investigations being conducted by the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the FDLE. We also have established an independent Task Force -- headed by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Quincy Police Chief Walt McNeil. Their work is to begin immediately. As you know, we have issued a notice of dismissal to director Dr. White -- and we have suspended all performances and rehearsals of the bands.

Here is what I want you to know. The University has a Zero Tolerance policy toward hazing. Period. But it is becoming increasingly clear that hazing continues to exist -- at FAMU and across the country at other universities, colleges and other elements -- because hazing survives and thrives in a culture of secrecy and a conspiracy of silence. I am committed to illuminating this dark corner of Florida A&M University and the American culture...illuminating it and eradicating it.

Universities pride themselves on being centers of excellence -- where R&D takes place -- Research and Development. At Florida A&M University, we are going to create a new, permanent culture of another kind of R&D: Respect and Dignity -- Respect and Dignity -- for every individual...and FROM every individual.

It is the university’s intent and absolute goal to break the culture of secrecy and the conspiracy of silence that has helped to institutionalize hazing, verbal and physical abuse. We are going to eliminate them -- and to make American society a safer place by doing it.

We are going to honor the memory of Robert Champion by establishing a strong, safe new set of traditions in the culture of the music program and bands -- and across our campus.

Frankly, it will require the active pledge and participation of every member of the FAMU family and community. We are going to get it done.

Next week, we will convene the entire campus in assembly -- and suspend classes for a portion of the day -- to get everyone on the same page of this new chapter, new era and new reality at FAMU. Respect and dignity -- from every individual...for every individual."