Fired FAMU band director Julian White says university leaders are trying to make him a scapegoat over who's to blame for an alleged culture of hazing in the Marching 100.
Tallahassee, Florida - Florida A&M's fired band director insists he did everything he could to prevent hazing prior to the death of a band member who, police say, died as a result of some form of hazing.
On Monday, longtime band director Julian White forcefully rejected accusations that he was negligent in his handling of hazing among band members before the death of Robert Champion in Orlando.
White says he suspended 26 band members for hazing-related incidents before the band's trip to Orlando and he notified FAMU President James Ammons. White says he asked for Ammons' help with the situation, but felt like he was the only one taking the situation seriously.
White believes Champion's death could have been avoided if Ammons had taken some action. Instead, White says the administration tried to make him a scapegoat.
"I reported. The hazing activities were confirmed by me. Nobody else. The hazing activities were confirmed by Dr. Julian White so how would I be negligent or misconduct in not reporting the activities when I did report them. I explained to them that I have suspended these students from the band and I have some apprehensions. I need your support in handling this hazing. Sometimes I feel as though I'm out there by myself and by that I mean, if I've given you the names, do something about it. If you've had these names two weeks, do something about it. I wish they had suspended the students from school. If some strong actions had been taken then Robert Champion may well be alive now."
Champion, a drum major, died on Nov. 19 after the Marching 100 performed at a football game. Champion was vomiting and complaining he couldn't breathe before he collapsed on a band bus. He died at an Orlando hospital. The cause of death is still unknown and it could be weeks before the exact cause is determined.
After Champion was pronounced dead at the hospital, White asked if he could see the body and he was allowed in.
"To see Robert in that condition, to have been to the hospital when they announced his death and to have gone in, I asked the medics if they would allow me a few minutes so I could go in and touch Robert and see Robert just as a reminder to me how tragic life can be sometimes and then to express myself in feelings and voice to Robert. Afterward, the most difficult time I had was calling his mother and father and stating to them 'there has been some difficulty and I regret to inform you that your son has passed away.' That was extremely difficult for me."
President Ammons has suspended the Marching 100 from further performances. He fired White saying he didn't feel "there was competence involving reporting allegations of hazing within the Department of Music and the Marching 100."
But White, who's worked at FAMU for nearly 40 years, said he worked hard for decades to prevent hazing in the band by requiring workshops at the start of every year to raise awareness of the issue and spell out the consequences.
He said he swiftly suspended students for hazing-related activities and personally patrolled the campus when he suspected such activity.
"I feel very comfortable that I did everything I could to eradicate hazing. I coined the phrase 'zero tolerance for hazing' in the Florida A&M band."
Now, White wants his job back.
Ammons appointed a task force, led by former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and former Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil, to investigate the case and determine if hazing is a problem in the FAMU band.
State Rep. Alan Williams, a FAMU graduate, said he was shocked and saddened by the death.
Williams hopes the task force will develop ideas to eradicate hazing in the future, not just at FAMU but at universities across the country.
"What's the blueprint for our students, for our faculty, for our staff going forward and how can we use this to be something that other universities, not only in Florida, but throughout the country can use to make sure their campuses are safer and that we focus on what we're there for and that's higher learning."
Gov. Rick Scott has directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the case along with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
FDLE spokesman Keith Kameg says the department will offer whatever resources are necessary for the sheriff's office to solve the case.
"Because of the resources we have, the resources we have in Orlando, if there's anything we can do to assist the Orange County Sheriff's Office, that's what we're going to do. We have tremendous laboratory capabilities. We have tremendous assets on the ground in Orlando."
Champion's funeral is planned for Wednesday in the Atlanta area. His parents say they will sue the university.