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January 16, 2013

FAMU delays hiring new leader for famed band

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida A&M University unexpectedly delayed the announcement on Tuesday of a new director for the university’s famed marching band, citing contract negotiations with the finalist for the job.

Before an auditorium full of faculty and students, university officials abruptly said that the appointment of a new director for The Marching 100 was on hold for now. The band — which has appeared at Super Bowls and inauguration parades — has been in limbo for more than a year following the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

Champion died in November 2011 after being beaten aboard a band bus. More than a dozen band members were charged in connection with the incident.

One of the main sticking points was over the structure of the job, which was changed after Champion’s death. The next band director will not also serve as chairman of the school’s music department.

“We felt we had a firm commitment on Monday, but there were concerns expressed by the candidate regarding the new academic structure in the Department of Music,” said Rodner Wright, the interim FAMU provost who led the search committee for a new director. “We are continuing our discussion with the candidate.  In lieu of the new discussion, we want to make sure that we are doing what is in the best interest of university.”

The delay comes just one day before FAMU officials are scheduled to go before the university system’s Board of Governors to discuss a blistering report that concluded that the school lacked internal controls to prevent or detect hazing prior to Champion’s death.

FAMU officials say they have already made sweeping changes in the aftermath of Champion’s death, which also resulted in the retirement of the band director and the resignation of the university president. Those changes include limiting the Marching 100 to just FAMU students and putting in new academic policies. The school is also hiring a compliance officer for the band as well as a top official whose job will be to focus on hazing.

Interim President Larry Robinson has said he planned to announce the fate of the band soon. But Robinson has added he wants to make sure that the university has taken the necessary steps to address hazing before the band returns.

FAMU initially fired band director Julian White shortly after Champion’s death. But his dismissal was put on hold at the urging of law-enforcement officials investigating Champion’s death. White announced his retirement in May 2012.

Four people interviewed last year for the band director job. A university official who was not authorized to release the information publicly said that FAMU was prepared to announce Tuesday the hiring of Jorim Reid, who is currently the director of North Carolina Central University. Reid, who is from Miami, attended FAMU and has written his own musical compositions.

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