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FAMU BOT to debate whether to extend hazing task force deadlines

Florida A & M’s Board of Trustees is expected to take up whether to give its hazing task force extra time to complete its mission. Last week the board reversed a decision to let the group meet in private amid criticism of the move. Lynn Hatter reports several members of the task force threatened to quit.

FAMU trustees held a national search to look for experts to serve on the anti-hazing task force. Members of the group aren’t being paid to serve and have no affiliation with the university. In its first meeting, task force member Dr. Na’im Akbar, a clinical psychologist and former president of the National Association of Black Psychologists, made the request to allow the group to meet in private.

 “I think in terms of being able to do the work we need to do within the timeframe in which we need to do it, we need the freedom to be fact-finders without the limitations and restraint that come from the demands of the Sunshine Law.”

 That request was later approved by the FAMU Board of Trustees. But not without some, like Trustee Rufus Montgomery, airing concerns about the move, and how it could be perceived.

 “What is the strategy to keep this from appearing as if, ‘there they go again, trying to keep this thing bottled up in secrecy?”

Those words turned out to be prophetic. Governor Rick Scott criticized the move and the university system’s board of governors also chimed in, all saying that the anti-hazing committee needs to meet in public. Last Friday, FAMU trustees reversed their decision on the hazing committees private meetings. But not before Breyon Love, FAMU’s student government president and a trustee, raised concerns about political interference.

 “We can’t let outside entities or organizations influence the decision of the board. That was clearly stated by the liason from SACS.”

Those concerns aren’t unfounded. Several months ago the Governor was pressuring university President James Ammons to resign amid the probe into the hazing-related death of university band drum major Robert Champion. But SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits FAMU—said such pressure could be seen as political intervention and affect the schools accreditation.

In its Friday meeting, Trustee Belinda Shannon, a Scott appointee, said she took issue with the perception that the task force was intentionally skirting Florida’s open records laws.

 “It should be noted that the anti-hazing committee itself asked for the change in its mission with the desire to efficiently accomplish its task of helping end hazing at FAMU. They do not wish to operate in secrecy. To suggest the committee was acting to dodge the Sunshine law is not only misinformed, but unfair.”

And the task force, chaired by former federal Judge and Attorney Stephen Robinson, pushed back against the mission change:

 “They would likely resign if our mission were changed and we would not be allowed to meet as a fact-finding body.”

But Trustee Rufus Montgomery, another Scott appointee—took those words as a threat.

 “So, you know, go ahead and resign. But I don’t think as a board, we should be hostage under the threat of resignation from anyone.”

 The task force says it wants to meet in private so that it can complete its task of issuing recommendations to curb hazing at the university on deadline. And it says the practice of noticing public meetings is time consuming. The board of trustees says it will consider giving the task force more time at its next meeting, which is set for Wednesday and Thursday at FAMU. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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