By Denise-Marie Balona, The Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — Three days before the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion, the dean of students had urged top administrators to impose a long-term suspension of the school’s famous marching band because of concerns about hazing.
The recommendation from Florida A&M University Dean Henry Kirby is outlined in some notes that he took about a critical meeting of administrators that was held on Nov. 16 specifically to discuss hazing within the band.
According to Kirby’s notes, he repeatedly recommended that FAMU “impose the ‘KAPPA’ effect” — or suspend the band long-term, as the university had done with the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity years earlier.
In 2006, FAMU suspended the university’s chapter of the fraternity after five members were charged with using wooden canes to beat a pledge during an initiation ritual.
“I explained that if we suspend the band like we did the KAPPAS that it would effectively stop all of this hazing,” Kirby wrote.
A copy of Kirby’s notes, which also offer details about events that happened before and after that critical November meeting, was obtained this week by The Orlando Sentinel after nearly a month of demanding the public records from the university.
While Kirby has refused to comment about the Nov. 16 meeting, his notes seem to indicate that he did not want the band to travel to Orlando to perform at the Florida Classic football game.
Champion was beaten to death aboard a parked charter bus just hours after the Classic ended. Eleven band members have been charged with felony hazing in his death.
Three other band members have been charged with misdemeanor hazing for their roles in the beating of three other FAMU students during the Classic weekend. Those students did not suffer serious injuries.
Kirby also mentions in his notes that he had, years earlier, recommended that both the band and the band director be suspended. But it is not clear whether that recommendation also was made as a result of hazing activities.
“I also stated that my comments were not well received and that administrators, in the past, in my opinion, did not take a firm stand on suspending the band,” wrote Kirby, who was appointed as FAMU’s dean of students in 1989.
In 1995, he was promoted to become the associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
Kirby’s notes seem to support former FAMU police chief Calvin Ross’ recollection of what occurred at the Nov. 16 meeting.
Ross told the Sentinel several weeks ago that he and Kirby recommended the band be suspended and not be allowed to perform at the Classic — recommendations that Ross said he had assumed would be shared with university President James Ammons prior to the Classic.
Kirby wrote in his notes that he had assumed that the administrators who called the meeting would brief Ammons.
After the Sentinel printed an article last month about Ross’ recollection of the Nov. 16 meeting, Ammons sent a prepared statement to the Sentinel saying that officials who participated in a meeting about hazing in the band decided, as a group, to deal with hazing in another way.
They decided that the “proper course of action” was to call members of the band together to remind them that they had signed anti-hazing agreements and that hazing was a felony, Ammons said in the June 14 statement.
“No member of the team told me they disagreed with the group’s ultimate decision and course of action,” Ammons wrote. “Rest assured that we are making a real good-faith effort to settle this entire matter with the Champion family, but to date no settlement has been reached, and so I must follow the advice of legal counsel in not commenting further at this time.”
Kirby wrote in his notes that, during the Nov. 16 meeting, former band director Julian White said he did not want to suspend the entire band before the Classic. Ross had remembered that White opposed the idea of suspending the band.
A spokeswoman for White’s attorney has said that White actually agreed with the recommendation, but no one at the Nov. 16 meeting had authority to suspend the band. White unexpectedly announced in May that he was retiring after months of fighting to keep his job.
“The consensus of everyone in that meeting was that no one in the room had the power to make that decision,” Brooke Hobbs, a spokeswoman for White’s attorney, Chuck Hobbs, told the Sentinel last month.
Immediately after the Nov. 16 meeting, White, Ross and Kirby went to the practice field to speak to band members about hazing.
Kirby said in his notes that he used “very strong” language and even cursed during his lecture, apparently to make sure band members took him seriously.
“I intended to be clear, to the point and did not pull any punches,” he noted. “I strongly admonished them on the consequences of participating in hazing activities. Likewise, Chief Ross was very strong and firm with his message but absent the salty language that I used.”