FAMU Provost Steps Down - Higher Education
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FAMU Provost Steps Down

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by Reginald Stuart

Florida A & M University late Friday made what its president, Dr. James H. Ammons, characterized as “major changes” in the school’s leadership team.

Dr. Cynthia Hughes Harris, FAMU Provost and second highest ranking university official behind Ammons since January 2008, was returning to her former post as Dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, effective immediately, Ammons told the university community in a letter after a Friday “emergency” meeting with deans.

Harris’s replacement, effective Friday, is Dr. Larry Robinson, who returned to FAMU last November as professor and special assistant to the president after a brief stint in Washington with the Obama Administration. Robinson, who has been associated with FAMU since 1997, had served as university Provost from May, 2003 to August, 2005.

Ammons also advised his colleagues he was expanding the role of university general counsel Avery D. McKnight and promoting McKnight, FAMU alum, to vice president for legal affairs and general counsel. In his new role, McKnight picks up direct responsibility for risk management, labor relations and equal opportunity programs, Ammons says.

The shuffling of FAMU’s leadership team comes as the university faces continued fallout from the hazing death last fall of a drum major in its marching band and, separately, an inquiry about its “I” (incomplete grade) policy.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is said to be concluding its investigation into the death of Robert Champion, the 26-year-old student who died from injuries inflicted by some fellow band members during a hazing encounter on a bus hired to transport band members to and from a football game in Orlando.

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Meanwhile, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), is expected to send a team to the school this spring to investigate complaints about its policy regarding incomplete grades. The probe was reportedly sparked by a student in the School of Allied Health. The university has reportedly hired consultants to work department by department to prepare for the SACA inquiry set for this spring.

“I have made major changes in my administration and have assigned members of my executive leadership team to areas where their skills and experience are needed the most,” Ammons said Friday.

Ammons did not mention the hazing issues or the “I” grades inquiry by the Southern Association of College and Schools (SACS). He did go to great lengths in his letter to praise Harris for her work as provost 

School officials could not be reached this weekend for clarification of several questions about the staff changes or the SACS inquiry.

The staff shakeup was announced as the school released a statement saying a new, independent anti-hazing task force appointed by university trustees had completed its organizational meeting with a decision to ask school trustees to change the committee’s status to that of a “fact-finding” body.

The “fact-finding” status would allow the group to meet in private and bypass the state’s open meetings law requirements, officials acknowledged. The task force, which plans to focus most of its work on activities on campuses other than FAMU, also was reported by the Associated Press to have said it would not investigate past incidents of hazing at FAMU.

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The fact-finding status also would preclude the committee from making recommendations to the trustees, freeing trustees to use the committee’s work in shaping its own set of recommendations to the university president regarding anti-hazing efforts at FAMU. The all-volunteer committee is headed by attorney Stephen Craig Robinson, a former U.S. District Court judge.

There was no immediate indication from the university’s trustees whether they would agree to the committee’s request for a status change that would bypass state open meeting laws.

Meanwhile, the university is awaiting the result of the FDLE investigation in connection with the death of Champion. Late last year, Ammons suspended four band members in connection with the death. He rescinded the action a few days later, after FDLE officials asked him to without any punishments pending the outcome of their investigation.

The situation was the same in the case of the school’s legendary band director, Julian White. Ammons had suspended White over the handling of hazing issues with the band. White, who subsequently released a series of letters to school administrators he says to prove he was doing his best to address the issue, has retained an attorney to help him regain his job.

Ammons has suspended the band indefinitely, pending the outcome of the FDLE investigation and several other reviews. The likelihood of the internationally famous marching band performing in the near future is uncertain, although there are signs it will not have a full dance card this fall during football season.

At least one school set to face the FAMU Rattlers football team this fall was notified the FAMU `Marching `100’ band will not be participating in the event.

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Usually, the FAMU band performs at half time during games in which the school’s football team participates. FAMU officials did not respond to a request for comment about this development. 

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