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FAMU president resigns in wake of hazing death

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Posted at 10:39 PM, Jul 11, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-11 22:39:23-04

(CNN) — The president of Florida A&M University announced his resignation Wednesday, more than seven months after a drum major for the university band died following a hazing incident.

“After considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family, I have decided to resign from my position as president in order to initiate my retirement on October 11, 2012,” James H. Ammons wrote in a letter to the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, Solomon Badger III.

Ammons said he is leaving the post he has held for five years, effective this fall, but would remain as a tenured professor.

He made no direct reference to hazing in his letter.

Last month, the school’s trustees supported by 8-4 a no-confidence vote over Ammons’ performance. “I hear you loudly and clearly,” Ammons told the board at the time. “I understand there are some measures that I have to take as president of this university to fix things, and I am going to fix them.”

In a statement, Badger said Wednesday that he was saddened by Ammons’ decision to resign, “but it is his choice to do so. Given all that has transpired, it seems to be in the best interest of the university, and I applaud him for putting FAMU ahead of his personal goals.”

The resignation comes after the November 19 death of Robert Champion, 26.

In a statement, Champion’s family said “the rampant culture of hazing found at FAMU would not and could not be eradicated without some major housecleaning of those who turned a blind eye to the problem.”

Champion died within an hour of being badly beaten during a hazing ritual on a band bus after a football game in Orlando, Florida.

The ritual, called “Crossing Bus C,” is an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle while being assaulted by senior members, according to some university band members.

An autopsy found “extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back,” and “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat,” the medical examiner reported, ruling the death a homicide.

A police investigation resulted in charges against 14 people. Eleven face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death. Each also is accused of two counts of first-degree misdemeanor hazing. Three people each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing.

FAMU said it took steps to eradicate the problem of hazing after Champion’s death, and the board of trustees approved an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate hazing allegations.

Since then, Julian White has retired as band director, the Florida A&M board of trustees issued a vote of no confidence against Ammons and the marching band has been suspended through the 2012-2013 school year.

Champion’s parents met Wednesday with prosecutors to receive an update about criminal charges being pressed against those involved in their son’s death.

The Champions have filed a lawsuit suit against the school’s board of trustees, the company that owns the bus in which the abuse occurred and the bus driver.

The 33-page document, which was filed Tuesday in circuit court in Orange County, Florida, does not specify damages being sought. It claims the bus driver participated in or allowed hazing rituals to occur on the buses she was operating.

Florida A&M president keeps band on suspension

CNN’s Adam Reiss contributed to this report.