TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A panel of experts convened by Florida A&M University to battle hazing requested Friday that it be allowed to meet privately in order to do its job. FAMU created the committee after drum major Robert Champion died during what police described as hazing. The panel includes a band director, a former federal prosecutor and others who have studied hazing.
During their first meeting Friday, committee members agreed to ask FAMU officials to change the mission of the committee to bypass Florida's open meetings and public records law. It will be up to the school's trustees to decide whether to make the change.
Stephen Craig Robinson, a former federal judge and prosecutor and chairman of the committee, suggested the change so that the seven members of the panel can collaborate and exchange information with each other without having to notice meetings ahead of time.
A spokeswoman for FAMU said the idea was to allow the committee to work quickly since the state's open meetings law applies to individual members of a board or commission meeting with one another to discuss pending items.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, noted that state law allows “fact finding'' panels to avoid following the state's open meetings laws. But she said that means the committee cannot make any actual recommendations to the FAMU Board of Trustees.
Committee members say they plan to look at how hazing has been handled at other universities and what steps can be taken to prevent hazing among students and in marching bands.
FAMU suspended its famed Marching 100 band after Champion's death. He suffered blunt trauma blows and he died from shock caused by severe bleeding, authorities said. Detectives are investigating the death as a homicide but have yet to arrest anyone in connection with the incident that took place on a band bus in Orlando.
Committee members also announced that they would not investigate past incidents of hazing at FAMU.
FAMU has set aside a budget of $30,000 for the seven-member committee. Each member is eligible for a $1,000 honorarium.