Judging from their resignation letters, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Akbar considered as unrealistic the conditions under which the committee would work and the time frame given it for the best possible outcome from its deliberations. Both of those concerns could have been satisfied in order to keep these two very distinguished men on the panel.
One concern centers on Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law that bars private discussions of public matters. The committee asked for a way to work around that law if only for logistical reasons since members live and work in different parts of the country and would necessarily need to communicate as they enter their deliberations. One alternative was for the team’s terms of reference to be changed to fact-finding only. FAMU’s Board of Trustees accepted that recommendation in March but reversed itself after Gov. Rick Scott and Mr. Dean Colson, chairman of the Board of Governors of the State University System intervened. That interference in the work of this committee was wholly unwarranted and smacked of politics.
The second concern – the requirement that the committee finish its work by the fall semester – is also a reasonable one. With the state and the local authorities both investigating the hazing death of FAMU student and marching band member Robert Champion, there is no reason to believe that giving the committee more time to do its work could be seen as a delaying tactic.
It is clear, also, from the tenor of Mr. Robinson’s resignation letter that infighting had started among some committee members and some trustees, with Mr. Robinson sharply denouncing claims that he was trying to hold the trustee board hostage with his remarks during an emergency conference call with trustees on March 30. His letter did not name anyone but press reports have indicated that he was referring to Mr. Rufus Montgomery, one of two trustees who opposed the effort to allow the panel to deliberate in private.
The imperative in creating the committee is for a thorough investigation of hazing at FAMU – its history and the university’s efforts to stamp it out — and steps that should be taken to eliminate the practice. If that means changing the original mission and extending the life of the panel, so be it, so long as the wider community is kept informed at all times. The end result is what is important.
It would seem that FAMU is willing to accept that Mr. Robinson and Mr. Akbar are now off the committee but such a mindset would be a mistake. These are two men of exceptional qualities and their absence will only diminish the work of the panel. Their resignations must be an occasion for the trustees to review what has happened even before the committee has begun delving fully into its mandate. It is not known if they can be wooed back to the panel but efforts should be made to bring them back – and to address any other concerns of other members of the committee before the whole exercise falls apart.