dean_colson_web.jpgTALLAHASSEE (AP) — Florida A&M University faculty leaders have told the board overseeing state universities that FAMU faces bigger issues than hazing even as they acknowledged that the death of a student last November was tragic.

Among the major issues facing the school, faculty representatives said, are budget cuts, teaching students and accountability criteria that are unfair to the historically black school.

The death of Robert Champion, a Marching 100 drum major, and subsequent disclosures of pervasive hazing within the band didn't even come up until Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson asked about them at the end of a breakfast meeting Jan. 19.

Champion died in Orlando, where the band had gone for a football game.  An autopsy report ruled his death was a homicide. It concluded that Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body while he was aboard a bus carrying the band and died from shock caused by severe bleeding. No charges have yet been filed in the case.

When Colson asked about Champion's death, architecture professor Tom Pugh said, “It's a tragedy. It's a very important issue. It's not the most important issue on campus.”

Pugh, instead, focused on accountability factors such as graduation rates that, he said, penalize Florida A&M because it has a large number of low-income and disadvantaged students. They take longer to get through school because they must work or need remedial courses, Pugh said.  He said state criteria also differ from that required for national accreditation of various programs, resulting in a lot of unproductive paper-shuffling.

Journalism professor Bettye Grable told the panel that budget cuts have been so deep that she has to buy her own supplies. She said she also has more students but less time to prepare for classes due to faculty reductions. She said faculty members have been trying to fix broken-down computers themselves because a technician was laid off and that she's sent students home or to the library because there weren't enough of the machines in working order.

In other reports, at a special meeting, the college board of trustees dismissed the students, who were arrested on misdemeanor charges for hazing incidents involving five other students. The incidents were unrelated to Champion's death, according to police reports.

Denise Bailey, 22, Brandon Benson, 23, Hakeem Birch, 21 and Anthony Mingo, 22, were charged with punching, slapping and paddling fellow band members during initiation rites for a group of clarinet players called “The Clones.” Each denied any hazing took place, the police report said.

Photo: Dean Colson