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News Clips 07/03/2013
EDITORIAL: Trusting FAMU to make reforms work
Source: Sun Sentinel, 07/02/13
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Florida A&M University, to paraphrase a quote made famous by the Blues Brothers, is getting the band back together.
Last week's announcement that the university was lifting its suspension of the Marching 100 was meant to instill confidence that strides have been made against hazing — the rites of initiation that cost drum major Robert Champion Jr. his life.
Changing the campus' hazing culture has not been easy. Just last week, the university suspended two sororities — Delta Sigma Theta and Gamma Sigma Sigma — because of hazing.
The good news from those cases, however, is that the university acted swiftly and strongly. "Part of changing behavior is ensuring that people understand that we are very serious about it," Larry Robinson, FAMU's interim president, told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Pressure has been building to allow the university's famed Marching 100 to return to the field. In the year and a half since its suspension, attendance has fallen at football games and applications have dropped for student enrollment.
The iconic band — the face of the university — has long been FAMU's most famous draw. Its high-stepping, musically precise performances have excited crowds at Super Bowls, presidential inaugurations and parades around the world. It's been a big revenue-generator for the school.
But is it too soon? Can FAMU assure students, parents and the public that adequate controls are in place to prevent another youngster from being harmed?
Robinson says it's so. And while vigilance will be critical, there's reason to believe he's on target.
The school has taken deliberate and sustained steps to curb hazing through policy directives, new personnel and on-campus promotional programs.
It's made another big change, too, one that should have been standard operating procedure all along: Band members now must be full-time FAMU students.
Previously, students from Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College were allowed to play for the Marching 100 so long as they enrolled in a single band class. However, the rule was rarely enforced. And after Champion's death, a quarter of the band's members were found not to be students at all.
Now, besides being full-time FAMU students, band members also must maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make timely progress toward completion of their degrees. They will be required to pick a major by their third year, and membership in the band will be limited to four years.
These changes are important, symbolically and strategically, in helping the university make progress toward its top priorities: raising academic performance, improving graduation rates and ending probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls its life-giving accreditation.
FAMU also has made an important change in supervision. Previously, the vaunted band director also chaired the university's music department, concentrating too much power in one person. Now the positions are separate, which will improve oversight. Plus, there's a compliance officer whose job is to ensure administrative polices are enforced.
Hiring Sylvester Young as the new band director is another plus. He's a FAMU alum and former Marching 100 trombone player. He's a strong leader who's led bands at two other historically black universities. He understands the culture of hazing and his vital role in putting an end to it.
Young faces a big challenge. He must rebuild a marching band amid unrealistic expectations of immediately delivering the razzmatazz that typically made the band's performance bigger than the game itself.
We all look forward to the return of the Marching 100. We are confident that when the band once again takes the field, smiles will be big and standards will be high.
And when it marches off the field, we will trust that FAMU leaders have instituted sufficient change and oversight to keep their students safe.