TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University's president reached an agreement with school officials to immediately resign from his post Monday after facing months of criticism in the wake of the hazing death of a marching band member.
James Ammons submitted a letter last week stating his resignation would take effect Oct. 11. However, on Monday he waived a provision allowing him to give 90 days notice to the FAMU board in exchange for getting paid bonuses.
Ammons will be paid more than $98,000 in performance bonuses from his last two years in office — and will still earn his full presidential salary of more than $341,000 over the next year while he remains on sabbatical. Ammons plans eventually to return to FAMU as a member of the faculty.
The school's governing board, which held an emergency conference call to discuss Ammons' resignation, voted in favor of the deal and to name Provost Larry Robinson as interim president.
Robinson previously served in the administration of President Barack Obama as assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He also briefly served as the top official in charge of FAMU in 2007 before Ammons was appointed president.
FAMU's board spent more than an hour discussing whether to make Robinson interim president so quickly. Questions remain about whether other candidates should be considered and whether an interim president is eligible to apply for the permanent job of president.
But both the student body president and the head of the faculty senate pressed for Robinson to be appointed immediately in order to bring stability to a campus that has been reeling since the November death of Robert Champion.
“I know how jittery the university community is at this time,” Narayan Persaud, a FAMU professor, told other board members.
Still, in order to reach consensus, trustees agreed to take a more formal vote when they meet again in August. The choice of interim president will also have to be approved by the Florida Board of Governors, the panel that oversees the entire state university system to which FAMU belongs.
Ammons had vowed a month ago to remain at his job, despite a no-confidence vote from trustees in June.
Ammons was first brought on five years ago to help stabilize the school's financial troubles and threats to its accreditation. But Champion's death put a spotlight on the hazing culture at the university, specifically within the famed Marching 100 band. Trustees have complained about a lack of oversight of the band, as well as lax management on other issues at the university.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts for alleged roles in Champion's hazing. They have pleaded not guilty.
Meanwhile, Champion's family has sued the university.
The band has already been suspended until 2013. And there are still two investigations under way, including a probe by the Florida Board of Governors into whether university officials ignored past warnings about hazing prior to Champion's death.
Other problems have come out in the past year: A top auditor resigned after it was discovered false audit summaries had been distributed. It was revealed that more than 100 members of the Marching 100 weren't students. And there is an ongoing state criminal investigation into band finances. Additionally, the athletics department has a multi-million-dollar deficit and it appears that enrollment will drop this fall.
Ammons had already launched initiatives to battle hazing, including strict new requirements for membership in the Marching 100.
It could take as long as a year to find a new president but FAMU board members said Robinson will need to help deal with the damage now.
“I just believe there is some major cleaning up that needs to be done in the interim,” said Torey Alston, a FAMU board member.
Photo: James Ammons