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FAMU trustees change course on anti-hazing committee, saying it must meet in open after all

Florida A&M trustees decided Friday to reverse course -- again -- on the charge of its outside anti-hazing committee.

Their decision means the committee must operate within Florida's Sunshine Laws for public meetings, a requirement the outside panel successfully argued last week would be too burdensome for turning around the research FAMU wants by the fall semester.

More than half of the experts on the committee will quit as a result of the reversal, Judge Stephen Robinson, chairman of the anti-hazing panel, warned before the vote.

Go ahead, trustee Rufus Montgomery retorted.

“I took it as a threat when I hear resignations if they’re not allowed to do what they asked,” Montgomery said. “To me that’s kind of a child not getting their way and saying I’m going to take my toys and go home. I’d rather move on because I believe it sets a dangerous precedent... So, you know, go ahead and resign. But I don’t think as a board we should be held hostage under the threat of resignation of anyone.”

A couple voices chuckled in the background of the conference call as he spoke.

The board faced rampant criticism of its decision last week to allow the committee to meet in private as a fact-finding body, per the committee's request. But Gov. Rick Scott, the chairman of the university system's governing body and the First Amedment Foundation this week all urged trustees to reverse their decision.

Friday's vote to reinstate the board's original mission as an advisory panel was 8-2, with trustees Karl White and Belinda Reed Shannon dissenting.

Shannon, the liaison between the panel and trustees, said characterizations of the outside experts as trying to act in secret were unfair and misinformed.

"Fact-finding is not investigative in nature," she said, a direct shot at Scott for saying the experts were not qualified for that kind of research since they are not law enforcement. "They are mindful of the law and would be careful not to cross over from fact-finding into public policy recommendations.

Robinson, appointed chairman of the anti-hazing panel, said the committee merely wanted to have broad flexibility to exchange emails and call each other whenever convenient -- without a required public notice. Five of the committee's seven members said they will resign if trustees revised their mission so their meetings become public, he said.

"Time is this committee’s enemy," Robinson said.

"I know it's inconvenient and all that," said Trustee Spurgeon McWilliams, a former member of the Florida Ethics Commission, "but that’s how we have to operate in the state of Florida."

The FAMU task force includes the following professionals:

Stephen Craig Robinson (Chairman) – Former U.S. District Court Judge and current partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom;
Dr. Na’im Akbar – Clinical Psychologist and Former President, National Association of Black Psychologists;
Elizabeth Allan – Professor, University of Maine and Co-Director, The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention;
Michael V. Bowie – Executive Director of Florida Fund for Minority Teachers & former national president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council;
David Brewer – Former Vice Admiral of the United States Navy and Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District;
Mary Madden – Professor, University of Maine & Co-Director, The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention;
David Starnes – Band Director and Professor of Music at Western Carolina University