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Hazing, missing audits add pressure on FAMU officials

The pressure on Florida A & M University continues to mount in the run-up to its board of trustees meeting set for Wednesday and Thursday.  In advance of the meeting, the chairman of the board that oversees all of Florida’s public universities issued aletterto FAMU’s board of trustees Chairman, seeking greater input into the evaluation of University President James Ammons.

“Regulation 1.001 also requires that the Chair of the Board of Trustees seek input on the President’s evaluation from the Chair of the Board of Governors. Thus, I requested that each Chair contact Chancellor Brogan during the formative stages of the President’s evaluation,” wrote Board of Governor Chairman Dean Colson to FAMU’s Board of Trustees Chairman Solomon Bader.

“The current contract for President Ammons states that, ‘No later than each May 15, Dr. Ammons shall initiate the evaluation process on such approved goals and objectives for the previous calendar year by submitting a self-appraisal of said period’s performance.’ Please forward a copy of the self-appraisal to Chancellor Brogan and me for our review.”

Before the hazing death of band drum major Robert Champion in November that made headlines around the world and resurfaced a history of hazing within its famed band program, the school was already dealing with a separate issue of several missing audits that had not been performed by the school’s Vice President for Audit and Compliance, Charles O’Dour.

An investigation by Tallahassee Law Firm Sniffen and Spellman found that O’Dour had purposely misled FAMU’s Board of Trustees about more than a dozen fraudulent “executive summaries” for internal financial reviews that had not been done.

At least five of those audits were associated with the University’s band program, which has undergone closer scrutiny in the wake of Champion’s death and subsequent state department of law enforcement investigations.

In the course of those investigations, it was found that more than 100 members of the FAMU Marching 100 band (composed of more than 400 musicians), were not current students of the university or enrolled in the marching band class.

However, about 60 of those ineligible students were allowed to travel with the band to Orlando, with the school incurring the cost to transport and feed them. Two of the people charged in Champion’s death were among those ineligible to perform.

Dr. Julian White, FAMU’s former band director, has said he was not responsible for verifying whether students were eligible to participate in the band program, but the university says, as the band director, he should have known that something was amiss.

In addition to the outstanding audit issues, the Board of Governors said it remains concerned with the number of serious issues that continue to mount at Florida A&M University. In his letter, Board Chairman Dean Colson attached a list of issues he wants addressed in FAMU President James Ammons’ next evaluation:

  • The extent of any efforts to improve FAMU’s first-time-in-college (FTIC) graduation rates;
  • The administration’s response to improprieties alleged against multiple senior-level administrators;
  • The administration’s response to the whistleblowers’ cases regarding the FAMU Vice President of Audit and Compliance’s submission of fraudulent audit summaries to the FAMU Board of Trustees;
  • The administration’s response to reported sexual assaults of minors at the FAMU Developmental Research School;
  • Issues raised by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and certain programmatic accreditation organizations; and
  • University controls relative to band participation by individuals not enrolled in FAMU’s mandatory course(s).

FAMU has had problems with its financial controls in the past, but for the last several years had managed to receive clean audits from the state. It also received a clean operational audit earlier in the year, although what it’s next one will look like is still unclear.
Ammons is under pressure to resign. He has said that decision is up to the school’s board of trustees.

Ronald J. Ebben has 50 years of experience in broadcast news. Ron’s first assignment was covering the Kennedy-Nixon 1960 election in Peoria, Ill. His first News Director position was in 1963 at a Fort Worth, Texas, radio station. He carried Kennedy speech in downtown Fort Worth before JFK was assassinated later that morning in Dallas. And he was in the newsroom to see those fateful words come over United Press International wire: the “president had been shot.” Ron served as News Director for Tampa Bay stations from 1968 to 1990 and hosted the “Live with the Governor” statewide call-in show with Gov. Bob Martinez. In 1990, he became News Director of a statewide network with 26 affiliates. From 1991 to 2000 Ron was News Director at WTNT and Program Director for WNLS. Since 2000 Ron has served as :Morning Edition: host for WFSU News.
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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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