My Opinion: FAMU hazing panel daunted by unrealistic expectations
April 11, 2012
By Van Wilson
Your Capital Bureau
If Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees are serious about dealing with the issue of hazing, they are going to have to make some way for whatever body that is dealing with the problem to be able to gather the information it needs.
But it is becoming painfully apparent that neither the governor nor some members of FAMU’s BOT have any idea how to deal with the problem of hazing and that they aren’t going to let their ignorance help the process.
FAMU President James H. Ammons convened the committee to address the issue of hazing in response to the death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion last November, allegedly as a result of hazing.
The committee was originally assembled as an advisory body, which made it subject to Florida’s liberal Government in the Sunshine laws. Those laws, which I believe are good laws, are meant to provide transparency in government by making documents and proceedings subject to public observation and inspection.
Once the committee got started. it quickly realized that the vast majority of its work was going to have to be intense research on the topic of hazing.
Hazing is nothing new, and according to hazing expert Hank Nuwer, accounts of hazing go back to the fourth century. In fact, church reformer Martin Luther was actually a proponent. Hazing occurs in more segments of our society than at colleges; in fact, it also occurs in high school and community organizations.
And hazing is much more complex issue than a beating or silly prank.
Hazing involves issues of psychology, sociology, group dynamics, bystander interaction and even elements of anthropology – all heavyweight subjects and none that can be easily studied or researched in a public meeting.
Imagine trying to do a research project on any of these subjects but only being able to do that research in a meeting that had to first be advertised and then convened in a public place, with others looking over your shoulder the whole time. That is what the committee has been asked to do.
So, the committee asked to be reassigned from advisory status to the status of a fact-finding body to better be able to research the many facets of hazing. Understanding this, the BOT changed the committee’s mission.
Enter Scott and outspoken trustee Rufus Montgomery. Neither obviously has any idea about the real issues surrounding hazing.
I must admit, the governor does have the lawful obligation to insure that as much of government as possible is in the sunshine and that citizens are given the ability to monitor government’s operations.
I also realize that, in the wake of the Penn State scandal, Scott wants the citizens of Florida to feel confident that everything is being done above-board with the ongoing investigation into Champion’s death and other hazing incidents uncovered at FAMU – even though the committee has nothing to do with any criminal investigation.
Last week, the BOT caved in and moved the committee back to its original advisory status. To date, three committee members have resigned. I don’t blame them because they are seriously handicapped from doing their duty.
I initially opposed Scott’s request for the BOT to reassign FAMU’s committee on hazing back to its original advisory status. Given the aforementioned reasons I understand his concerns.
But if the governor and anyone else want some serious headway to be made on the issue of hazing, a way must be found for the committee to get the information it needs to do the job it was created to do.
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