TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida A&M University is planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of efforts to revamp the school after the hazing death of a school drum major.
Trustees and top officials of the university said Wednesday that they are taking steps to deal with a culture of hazing they called a "significant disease" that is harming the university's reputation.
The changes are coming at a critical time for the university, which has garnered national attention through appearances by its famed Marching 100 band at Super Bowls and inaugurations.
FAMU President James Ammons is coming under fire from some outside the university for his performance, enrollment for the coming year is down, and the university wants to launch a major fundraising campaign in the coming year.
The university athletic program, which has been grappling with a deficit, must also figure out how to fill the football stands this fall even though the band has been suspended for the coming year.
Ammons told trustees during an all-day retreat that responding to the beating death of Robert Champion and the deeply ingrained hazing culture at the school has proven to be the most "challenging issue" of his career.
"I am deeply concerned about the culture at Florida A&M University," Ammons said. "I am deeply concerned about the image of our university...I know we have ahead of us a big task of restoring the trust and confidence in this university to provide a safe environment for our students."
Champion died last November after being beaten in a band bus outside an Orlando hotel. Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in the hazing.
Ammons suspended The Marching 100 late last year, but last month he announced he was continuing the suspension for the coming year. University officials acknowledged that the ongoing suspension has not been popular with music students - nor with those in the local community who are long-time fans of the school and the band.
"I don't want to underestimate the significance of that move," said trustee Kelvin Lawson. "It feels good in here, but out beyond these walls and in this community that is a pretty major decision."
University trustees on Wednesday heard about plans drawn up by Ammons and his staff to deal with hazing and the band over the next year. They include tough new eligibility and academic requirements for members of the band modeled on NCAA requirements for athletes, as well as limits on practice time and new requirements for supervision.
FAMU also would no longer allow students from other schools in Tallahassee to perform with The Marching 100. It was revealed last month that 101 members on the 457-member band roster were not FAMU students. FAMU briefly did bar students from other schools but Ammons himself agreed to lift that restriction when he became president in 2007.
"It didn't work the way it was laid out to work," said Ammons, acknowledging that there was "abuses" in those who were allowed to join the band.
Ammons said a new four-year eligibility requirement would apply to students already in the band, while a new 2.5 grade point average requirement will be placed on incoming students. He acknowledged that those moves likely will make the famed band much smaller than it has been.
But the school is also putting in place new requirements for all student clubs and organizations.
Despite budget cuts this year, Ammons is also proposing to in excess of $300,000 to hire a compliance officer for the music department and a special assistant dealing with hazing. He also plants to beef up the office that handles student conduct and allow it to recommend suspensions or expulsions.
FAMU's top lawyer also told trustees that he will likely need additional spending to deal with lawsuits that are expected to arise from Champion's death. Additionally, the school plans to spend more than $800,000 on a "rebranding" effort in advance of a $50 million fundraising campaign. That effort will include advertising and marketing designed to help FAMU battle media coverage surrounding Champion's death and the band.
The university is still trying to devise plans for alternative entertainment for its home football games. Organizers of FAMU's annual clash with rival Bethune-Cookman College announced that the Orlando game will go forward as planned but they are reviewing options to the traditional battle of the bands that has been the centerpiece of the contest.
Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)