TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida A&M University trustees voted on Friday to change the mission once again of the school's anti-hazing committee and force it to meet publicly.
The 8-2 vote came after Gov. Rick Scott and others had criticized school officials for initially deciding earlier this month to allow the committee to sidestep Florida's “sunshine law.''
But the vote came after a testy session where the chairman of the anti-hazing committee warned that members may resign if the group of experts was forced to follow Florida's strict open meetings and public records law.
That led one FAMU trustee to push back and say he would not respond to a “threat'' and told the chairman to “go ahead and resign.''
“To me that's kind of a child not getting their way and saying `I'm going to take my toys and go home,''' said trustee Rufus Montgomery.
The university created the panel after drum major Robert Champion died during what police said was hazing while the FAMU band was in Orlando for a football game last fall.
The panel of seven experts, however, contended that it could not do its work quickly if it had to notice meetings every time a member wished to talk to another one.
So a week ago the FAMU Board of Trustees agreed to change the mission of the school's hazing advisory panel to a “fact finding'' committee so it would be exempt from state requirements.
But Scott wrote a terse letter to the board earlier this week saying that he was disappointed that the panel could meet in private. That was echoed by Dean Colson, the head of the Board of Governors, the state panel that oversees the state's 11 public universities.
The criticism came at the same time that FAMU President James Ammons placed two music professors on paid administrative leave following allegations they were present while band fraternity pledges were hazed.
Several board members insisted they weren't responding to the governor or other “forces,'' but said they wanted recommendations from the panel of experts and not just a recitation of facts.
“We are dealing with the death of a student and trying to put in place steps to make sure that does not happen again,'' said Trustee William Jennings.
Trustee Torey Alston, however, said that it was clear that there was a negative “perception'' surrounding the previous board decision and that university officials needed to “come down on the side of openness in government.''
Stephen Robinson, a former U.S. district judge and chairman of the anti-hazing committee, told trustees that the group had met Thursday and did not want to change its mission.
Robinson said he took offense that anyone would think he wants to meet secretly. He said the panel wants to make sure it does a good job “because we have our good names and reputations on the line.''
“Our concern of operating as a fact-finding body was never about secrecy, it's about efficiency and effectiveness,'' Robinson told trustees.
The creation of the anti-hazing committee was sparked by Champion's death. He suffered from blunt trauma while aboard a band bus and died from shock due to severe internal bleeding, authorities say. His death is being investigated as a homicide but no arrests have been made.
Police files show that since 2007 nearly two dozen hazing incidents involving the band, fraternities and other student groups have been investigated. But it wasn't until Champion's death that the band director was initially fired, the band was suspended, student clubs were halted from recruiting new members and the anti-hazing task panel was assembled.
The panel of experts from across the nation includes a college band director, a psychologist, a former school superintendent and a professor who has done research on hazing.