FAMU faculty: Hazing not school’s biggest issue
Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 11:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 11:40 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University faculty leaders on Thursday told the board overseeing state universities that FAMU faces bigger issues than hazing even as they acknowledged that the death of a student last November was tragic.
Among the major issues facing the school, faculty representatives said, are budget cuts, teaching students and accountability criteria that are unfair to the historically black school.
The death of Robert Champion, a Marching 100 drum major, and subsequent disclosures of pervasive hazing within the band didn’t even come up until Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson asked about them at the end of a breakfast meeting.
“They probably feel a little beat up and battered and I think they want to go back to doing what they do best, which is teach kids,” Colson later said.
The Miami lawyer expected more discussion of the matter but said he understood the professors’ desire to take advantage of an opportunity to present their ideas and grievances to the board. The panel rotates its regular meetings, usually one a month, among the 11 state universities.
The board met with faculty representatives at a Tallahassee hotel just before its regular meeting at nearby Florida State University. The board had been scheduled to hold the regular meeting at Florida A&M but moved it at the request of school administrators so that it wouldn’t be a distraction in the wake of the hazing death, Colson said.
The state board is investigating whether university officials ignored past warnings about hazing involving band members. The board’s probe is on hold, though, because a criminal investigation has not yet been completed, Colson said. He said authorities have asked the board not to interview people about the matter until their investigation is done.
Faculty Senate President Narayan Persaud, a sociology and criminal justice professor, said afterward that faculty members take hazing seriously and noted the university is taking steps to prevent it.
That includes requiring students who register for classes this fall to sign an online form saying they’re aware of anti-hazing policies.
“The students and faculty have come a long way,” Persaud said. “At first the trauma, the negative press releases, affected everybody.”
When Colson asked about Champion’s death, architecture professor Tom Pugh said, “It’s a tragedy. It’s a very important issue. It’s not the most important issue on campus.”
Pugh, instead, focused on accountability metrics such as graduation rates that he said penalize Florida A&M because it has a large number of low-income and disadvantaged students. They take longer to get through school because they must work or need remedial courses, Pugh said. He said state criteria also differ from that required for national accreditation of various programs, resulting in a lot of unproductive paper-shuffling.
Faculty Senate Vice President Dreamal Worthen, who teaches professional development to agriculture students, said in an interview that hazing “needs to be addressed, but our first priority still needs to be with educating students.”
Journalism professor Bettye Grable told the panel that budget cuts have been so deep that she has to buy her own supplies. She said she also has more students but less time to prepare for classes due to faculty reductions. She said faculty members have been trying to fix broken-down computers themselves because a technician was laid off, and that she’s sent students home or to the library because there weren’t enough of the machines in working order.
Colson himself highlighted the school’s high drop-out rate.
“It looks to me like we’re letting in kids who aren’t college-ready just to get tuition dollars knowing that 70 percent of them aren’t going to be there two years later,” Colson said. “It’s not fair to those kids.”
Champion died in Orlando, where the band had gone for a football game. An autopsy report ruled his death was a homicide. It concluded that Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body while he was aboard a bus carrying the band and died from shock caused by severe bleeding. No charges have yet been filed in the case.
In a “State of the State University System” report at the regular board meeting, Colson said another tuition increase is needed to offset more anticipated budget cuts and improve academic quality.
Colson said only six states charge lower tuition, which is about $5,000 a year in Florida. He also noted that the average faculty pay at the University of Florida, the state’s highest rated school, is $122,000. That compares to an average of $145,000 among the top 10 public universities, he said.
“We don’t pay enough,” Colson said. “We’ve got to improve that if we want to get better.”
A group of students held a protest outside the building where the panel met. They spoke out against tuition increases and for adding more students to the 17-member board, saying it has been unresponsive to their needs. The panel currently has one student member.