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Lapses led to Florida A&M drum major hazing death: report

Robert Champion, Jr. is seen in this picture released by his family in Atlanta, Georgia, May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Courtesy of the Robert Champi
Robert Champion, Jr. is seen in this picture released by his family in Atlanta, Georgia, May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Courtesy of the Robert Champi

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida A&M University failed to follow state law and its own internal regulations on hazing ahead of a drum major's death from injuries after being beaten in a brutal marching band ritual in November 2011, a new report said on Friday.

The 32-page report issued by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, detailed numerous incidents of inadequate oversight, poor communication and outdated policies at the school.

Those lapses created a dysfunctional atmosphere that may have contributed to Robert Champion's death after a hazing initiation aboard a band bus during a trip in Orlando, according to the investigation ordered by the board last year.

Claims by former band director Julian White that his warnings of hazing among the renowned marching band's members were dismissed by FAMU's top officials were unsubstantiated, the report found.

"However, we conclude that the University was unable to demonstrate the existence of adequate institutional controls to ensure the effective implementation of the hazing and student code of conduct regulations, and band directive, which formed the basis of the anti-hazing program," the report concluded.

FAMU officials did not immediately return requests for comment on Friday. The university has 15 days to respond to the investigation.

The Board of Governors ordered leaders at the historically black college in Tallahassee, Florida, to work more closely with university system officials to improve hazing procedures that failed to protect Champion.

Among a laundry list of recommendations, the report called on FAMU to coordinate its anti-hazing effort with local law enforcement and update eligibility guidelines for marching band participants. Many members of the "Marching 100" band were not students at the university.

The report mentioned several things FAMU had done already to "right the ship," including revising its anti-hazing policy and adding a hazing section in its freshmen study courses.

The band has been suspended since Champion's death, and both White and FAMU President James Ammons left the university. Twelve former band members were charged with felony hazing in Champion's death, and his parents have sued the school.

Earlier this month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed FAMU on a year-long probation, citing the hazing incident among its reasons for doing so.

FAMU could lose its SACS accreditation if it fails to correct its errors within 12 months. Loss of accreditation would prevent the university from receiving federal financial aid.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Richard Chang)

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