Gov. Rick Scott insists he is not treating Florida A&M University unfairly by recommending its president step down amid investigations into a student's hazing death. His Sunday statement is a reaction to mounting student and alumni criticism of his involvement.
The university's Board of Trustees have called a special meeting for Monday, the one-month anniversary of Robert Champion's death after a rivalry football game, to discuss Scott's request. Scott said he will abide by their decision about FAMU President James Ammons.
"I have not and will not try to influence their decision," Scott said in a lengthy statement, copied in full below. "I simply offered my advice and opinion based on the events and the facts I was made aware of."
The board has already weighed in on the matter once this month, deciding in a regular meeting to reprimand Ammons over allegations by band director Julian White that he did not handle previous allegations of hazing appropriately. Scott called on Ammons to step down hours after his Thursday return from a weeklong trade and goodwill mission to Israel (after he was briefed about a sexual molestation case that occurred on the campus FAMU Developmental Research School). His call infuriated FAMU students, prompting them to march to his mansion in peaceful protest that night.
Ammons said Friday that stepping down is "something I'm considering."
Representatives of the school's alumni association warned in a press conference Sunday that Scott's involvement could cost the school its accreditation, and that his actions are excessive compared to incidents of hazing and death at other schools. They also criticized the media for not covering other hazing-related cases as intensely as this one.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, wrote Scott a letter Friday expressing much of the same.
Read the statements from Scott and the alumni association below:
“I am disappointed in the direction the dialog regarding the hazing-murder of a Florida A&M University student has taken. I know many people who care about the great institution share with me the concerns I have with making sure the current investigations proceed independently and without any appearance of interference so responsible parties may be brought to justice.
“I have not singled out Florida A&M University as I immediately called on all Universities throughout the state to examine their hazing and harassment policies and requested that the state's 11 public university presidents also remind their students, faculty and staff of how detrimental hazing can be.
“Following reports of the beating of one student and the death of another associated with hazing activities, I asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide any and all assistance necessary to help find answers through an investigation. After financial irregularities were discovered, I committed resources of our Inspector General to assist at the request of the Board of Governors.
“The FAMU Board of Trustees has already publicly reprimanded Dr. Ammons. This week, I learned of reports of at least one child molestation case that took place on campus, an incident Dr. Ammons told me in my office he was not made aware of until months after its occurrence. Based on all of these facts, I merely suggested it would be wise for Dr. Ammons to step aside until these investigations are completed.
“It is up to the FAMU Board of Trustees and Dr. Ammons to determine how to proceed. I have not and will not try to influence their decision. I simply offered my advice and opinion based on the events and the facts I was made aware of. Like all other Floridians, I will abide by the decisions made by the Board of Trustees and President Ammons tomorrow, and I do not plan to release any further comment before then.”
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From FAMU alumnus John Michael Lee Jr.:
The President of the FAMU National Alumni Association, Tommy Mitchell, held a press conference today on the FAMU campus to make two points: 1) Hazing is a National Problem, 2) Florida Governor Rick Scotts intervention can possibly jeopardize the accreditation of FAMU.
The Alumni of FAMU want the media to recognize that Hazing is indeed a national problem. In fact, there have been over 18 hazing-related deaths in 2011 alone at universities across the country including Indiana University, Penn State University, Utah State University, Youngstown State University, the University of Michigan, Yale and Cornell Universities. Also, there have also been hazing incidents at other Florida Universities including in the Florida State University Marching Chiefs in 1999 and the University of Miami in 2002. In 1999 at an off-campus party, Chad Temple and three other members of the Florida State University Marching Chiefs, including the two saxophone section leaders, were barred from the band as punishment for hazing -- including paddling of second-year band students. There is clearly a difference in treatment of cases at the Florida’s Predominantly White Universities and Florida’s Only Historically Black University.
There media has a public obligation to report the full scope and problem of hazing in the United States and at FAMU. Hazing-related deaths in the United States dates back to 1832, yet the most recent hazing related death was at Bowling Green University on December 13, 2011 and not at Florida A&M University. The only difference between these other universities and FAMU is that skin-color of the majority of the students on each campus. The media must report these other facts and incidents to the same level and with the same scrutiny of what has happened at FAMU. This has not happened to date.
While the media (national, local and the FAMUAN) are doing their jobs and should continue to cover the facts surrounding the hazing death of Robert Champion and other hazing incidents, they have an obligation to do the appropriate research, provide critical analysis and multiple perspectives. Journalists also have the obligation to be fair (to FAMU and its students) and balanced.
Hazing is not unique to FAMU nor is it found only in the confines of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The list of hazing Incidents that from across the country has been provided (Appendix A-attached) shows that hazing is indeed a part of universities (Predominately White and Historically Black) across the country: Also, the idea that hazing is only associated with bands and fraternities and sororities is also false. An Alfred University survey found that almost 80 percent of college athletes have been hazed; the vast majority of hazing incidents -- on the high school, college and pro levels -- go unreported. Appendix B (attached) provides the list compiled by ESPN.com- with the help of hazing authority Hank Nuwer - of 68 alleged and confirmed incidents of hazing on the high school, college and professional levels that occurred from 1980-2000.  Most situations came to light through the police or court system. I would also like to share with you a list of Hazing Situations that have resulted in the Death of a student at Colleges and Universities from 1838-2011 across the country dating back to 1838 to 2011 has also been provided (Appendix C attached).  Why has the national and local media failed to use this information which has been provided freely?
Hazing is indeed a national problem that is found throughout many aspects of American society, and FAMU is indeed a microcosm of that greater society. The attached document shows that hazing incidents at public and private universities, elite and open access universities, urban and rural universities, and Predominantly White Institution, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, etc. Most instances of hazing related deaths have occurred on Predominantly White Universities, many of which have been repeat offenders such as Cornell University, which has had five hazing-related deaths since 1832. The most recent incident at Cornell University was earlier this year on February 25, 2011. George Desdunes, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity member and student at Cornell University, was found unresponsive in the fraternity house early Friday morning and transported to the hospital, where he later died. The national media did not even look twice at this incident.
Incidents at Florida State University (2011) and the University of Miami (2002) - both Predominantly White Institutions in the State of Florida- have received near the publicity of the incident at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University- a Historically Black institution in the State of Florida. Florida State University is also a repeat hazing offender and has a history of hazing in its marching band program as well.
Governor Scott Should Not Interfere at FAMU
Governor Scott has told the FAMU BOT- which is entrusted with all matters pertaining to the President of FAMU- to suspend Dr. Ammons. Not only does Gov. Scott lack the legal standing to make such a request that supersedes the FAMU Board of Trustees, the Florida Board of Governors and the Constitution of the State of Florida, but also the governor's action places FAMU's accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in jeopardy.
The Governor of Florida has proclaimed to have the best interests of FAMU in mind as he continually calls for the suspension of President Ammons. How can this be the case when his very action jeopardizes the accreditation of the university and gambles the future of all 13,000 FAMU students? Does Governor Scott want FAMU to become the new Morris Brown College- another Historically Black College or University that lost its accreditation in 2002?
All FAMU Alumni call into question Governor Scott’s call for Dr. Ammons to be suspended pending this investigation. Why didn’t Governor Scott ask the Eric J. Barron, President of Florida State University, to step down on January 9, 2011 when a Florida State University sophomore, Ashley Cowie, was shot and killed at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house in what has been deemed an accidental, but alcohol-related, shooting. Cowie was a member of Chi Omega Sorority. A Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity member has been charged with manslaughter in the case. Governor Scott also did not ask for an FDLE investigation into the incident at Florida State University nor did the media sensationalize this event. Similarly, in 2002, Chad Meredith, a freshman at the University of Miami, died in a fraternity related hazing incident on the University of Miami campus in November, 2002. Again, there was no gubernatorial intervention in that death, nor was the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) asked to investigate that case.