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Florida university chief steps down early in hazing scandal

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - The board of Florida A&M University on Monday ordered James Ammons to step down as president immediately, moving up the date for his departure after months of criticism following the hazing death of a university drum major.

Ammons, who tendered his resignation last week after a no-confidence vote by the board, had planned to stay on for 90 days. But in an emergency meeting Monday, the board voted unanimously to have him go on sabbatical immediately before being allowed to return as a tenured professor.

The board appointed FAMU Provost Larry Robinson as interim president but will return in August to decide whether Robinson will stay on until a permanent president is found, a process that could take a year or more to complete.

Ammons' announcement last week that he was stepping down came shortly before parents of Robert Champion, a FAMU marching band member who died in November after being hazed, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

Champion, 26, died on a band charter bus after the university's renowned "Marching 100" band traveled from its Tallahassee campus to Orlando to participate in the annual "Battle of the Bands" and the "Florida Classic" football game between two historically black universities.

Officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined he died due to a brutal hazing incident in which he was subjected to a ritualistic beating.

Thirteen band members have been charged in Champion's death. Of those, 11 face felony hazing charges and could face up to six years in prison. Two others were charged with misdemeanors.

In the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, Champion's parents alleged that FAMU leaders tolerated hazing.

They also alleged that the university failed to act three days before Champion's death on a proposal by the school's dean of students to immediately suspend the band in an effort to tackle the hazing problem.

Trustees urged Robinson, a popular administrator among faculty and students, to move quickly to address concerns raised over the past several months.

In the wake of Champion's death, the band has been suspended for at least the next academic year.

The university is also under fire for poor retention rates, accounting irregularities and allegations of sexual abuse.

"There is some major cleaning up that has to be done," said Trustee Torey Alston.

(Editing By Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)

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