The president of Florida A&M University submitted his resignation Wednesday, the same day the university was sued by parents of a drum major who died during a hazing. It was unclear if the two events were related.
James Ammons announced the resignation, which takes effect Oct. 11, in a letter to the chairman of the university's governing board. He said his decision came after "considerable thought, introspection and conversations with my family."
Champion's parents applauded the move, calling it part of a necessary "house cleaning" at the university.
Members of the Marching 100 band were surprised by the news.
"I’m really shocked. He’s been saying he’d stick by it. I’m really shocked. He was headstrong on sticking with the band and 426 getting hazing eradicated," said Joshua Plummer.
"I didn’t know about it," said Matthew Nadekow. "It’s a surprise. He fought for everything going on."
The Board of Trustees may have been less surprised.
Solomon Badger, the Chairman of the Board, left Channel 4 a voicemail about the decision.
"It saddens me the president made decision, but that’s his choice. And I applaud the fact he seems to put FAMU ahead of his own personal goals. If anything to do with the Champion matter, it’s in litigation, on advice of counsel, I can’t comment on that,” said Badger.
The president's departure is the latest in a series of blows to the university that has seen its image badly bruised by Champion's death, the suspension of the band until 2013 and the springtime resignation of its veteran director.
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. Their trial is scheduled to begin the same month as Ammons' resignation, in October.
Dreams of playing in the now-disgraced Marching 100 band used to draw students to apply to the university as much if not more than the school's academic program, and the same professional performances that led it to play at Super Bowls and presidential inaugurations were a huge attendance draw at football games.
An alumnus and former top administrator of the school, Ammons was first hired to help steady FAMU in the wake of financial woes and threats to its accreditation.
But Champion's death put a spotlight on a hazing culture that he and other top FAMU officials have been unable to eradicate.
Ammons suspended the band right after Champion's death. He announced in May that the suspension would stay in effect for at least one more school year as officials moved ahead with trying to eliminate the hazing culture that surrounded the band.
Veteran band director Julian White was fired last year, but then his dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded. He insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated. He changed his mind in May and decided to retire after it was revealed that at least 100 band members were not students when Champion died.
The school's trustees gave Ammons a vote of no-confidence in June, after questioning his leadership in several areas, including what some saw as his lax attitude toward hazing and management of the band prior to Robert Champion's death in November.
At the time, Ammons said he would stay on the job, and he immediately recommended stringent new eligibility requirements for membership in the band.
Champion died in November after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel following a football game against the school's archrival.
His death cast an unwelcome spotlight on the FAMU athletic department, which was already grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit.
Hours before Ammons' announcement Wednesday, Champion's parents, Robert and Pamela, added the university to a lawsuit that already targeted the bus driver.
The Champions claim Florida A&M University officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing concerns three days before their son died. School officials also allowed nonstudents to play in the band, fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing, the lawsuit said.
School officials "failed to properly supervise, train, discipline and control the FAMU Band," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit seeks damages greater than $15,000, but does not give a specific amount.
The Champions said they were glad Ammons was leaving.
"Before the school can move forward, they have to do house cleaning," said Pam Champion. "That means taking care of the entities that are there in order to prevent something like this from happening again."