James Ammons Leaves FAMU Presidency - Higher Education
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James Ammons Leaves FAMU Presidency

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by Reginald Stuart

Embattled Florida A & M University (FAMU) president Dr. James Ammons, who had notified his board of trustees late last week of his intent to leave his post in October, was relieved of his post Monday, after trustees held an emergency board meeting via telephone and decided to end his once-celebrated tenure promptly.

Dr. Larry Robinson, the 57-year-old provost of FAMU since last November, was named interim president effective immediately with trustees agreeing to meet in person in August to hammer out a more detailed plan for finding a successor to Ammons, a FAMU alumnus who took the helm of FAMU five years ago this month after serving as president of North Carolina Central University.

Robinson, a nuclear scientist who has served as provost twice before his current assignment, said in a brief statement he was “grateful for this opportunity to serve at this critical time in the university’s history.” He did not go into detail about the myriad challenges he faces in his new post, although his statement quoted him as saying, “There is work to be done and I stand ready to do my absolute best to keep FAMU on its path to success.”

Ammons had no comment on the latest turn of events in his status at FAMU, a rapid-fire series of falls from favor over the last nine months including two votes of no confidence in the last six months by his board of trustees. The appointment in June of a new trustee apparently gave those who wanted to terminate Ammons a board majority, setting the stage for Ammons to take a hint and pursue an amicable departure.

FAMU trustees chair Solomon Badger III said the hastened departure plan provides for Ammons to begin a one-year sabbatical starting today. During that year, he will be paid his $341,250 base pay. He will also be paid $81,250, equal to 25 percent of his 2010-2011 bonus. Ammons will also get $17,062 from the university, a 5-percent bonus based on the annual report he submitted.

In a statement announcing the departure of Ammons and appointment of Robinson, Badger had no comment.

Political observers in Florida noted that Ammons had steadily fallen out of favor with the board of trustees, as the school’s image and its leadership’s credibility have endured one wave after another of public embarrassment since the death last October of FAMU drum major Robert Champion.

Champion, a 26-year-old band member from Georgia, died as a result of injuries received from some fellow band members during a hazing encounter on a bus chartered to transport the band to and from a football game.

Champion’s death was the latest in a series of hazing incidents that had prompted a steadily growing chorus of parents and school officials complaining the band had gotten out of control. The university officials suggested that strict discipline was required to restore university control of the world famous ensemble of more than 400 musicians. Top officials of the school did not follow through on those recommendations. Hazing is against the law in Florida.

The band was suspended in December 2011. This spring, Ammons extended the suspension through the 2012-2013 school year. Meanwhile, a state investigation into band hazing at FAMU resulted in more than 30 students being charged with various violations of the hazing law.

Separately, a university internal investigation found that more than 100 of the more than 400 musicians who played in the band on the weekend of the hazing death were not officially enrolled in FAMU, despite having band uniforms and traveling with the band at university expense (including overnight hotel accommodations and meals). School officials are awaiting the results of a state investigation into the budget of the university band.

Robinson inherits a myriad of other tasks, and it was not clear at the time of his appointment what latitude he would have as “interim” president to address them.

The school, which has four university dean vacancies, is looking for a new campus chief of police (the most recent chief retired this spring), and is on the hunt for a new marching band director.

It is also in the midst of implementing a major restructuring of its academic organization.

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