By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Florida A&M University's board of trustees publicly reprimanded the school's president on Thursday over his leadership in light of the death of a marching band drum major in an apparent hazing incident.
The board, meeting in Orlando, chose the reprimand over a call by trustee Rufus Montgomery to place Dr. James Ammons on administrative leave pending the outcome of police investigations into the student's death.
"I heard the board loudly and clearly," Ammons said on his way out of the board meeting in Orlando.
Robert Champion, 26, died last month following a performance by the internationally-acclaimed band at the annual Florida Classic football game against Bethune-Cookman University in Orlando.
Champion, a music major from Atlanta who served as one of six drum majors for the 375-member Marching "100" band, became ill in a band bus in the parking lot of a hotel after the game. A 911 caller that night said Champion was vomiting, having difficulty breathing and was not responsive.
The exact cause of death has yet to be determined, but the Orange County Sheriff's Office said Champion died following hazing.
Champion's parents have said they would sue the university over the death of their son, who they described as a laid back, churchgoing young man who loved music.
LETTERS ON HAZING
Part of the investigation into the death concerns letters from the band director dated November 8, 10 and 16, and copied to Ammons concerning hazing and the suspension of 30 band members from participating in the Classic because of hazing.
Before the decision to reprimand him, Ammons told board members those letters didn't arrive in his office in time for him to see them before the football game.
Montgomery, new to the board this year, said Ammons' handling of the death, along with other issues, led him to "lose confidence in the CEO of this institution to lead this university."
Trustee Belinda Reed Shannon had argued against Ammons' removal, saying: "I think we need to at least have something to base a decision as serious as that on."
Trustee Richard Dent said the board needed to have a succession plan in place before creating a leadership void in the middle of a crisis, and the board ultimately voted for the public reprimand rather than removing Ammons from office.
The board also took emergency action to quickly hire a public relations firm to help the school manage the fallout from the death. The board of the historically black college is scheduled to hold a performance review of Ammons in February.
Champion's death was not the first incident involving accusations of hazing and the band at the university.
In 2006, a pair of FAMU fraternity students went to jail for a hazing incident that left the victim so bruised from paddling he required surgery.
In another incident, a band member won a $1.8 million verdict in a civil battery suit against five band members for a 2001 hazing incident in which he was beaten so badly his kidneys shut down.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)