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FAMU lifts marching band's suspension

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By Phil Gast

Citing positive steps taken since the hazing death of a drum major, Florida A&M University's interim leader said Thursday he has lifted the suspension of the school's famous marching band.

The Tallahassee, Florida, university's band, called the Marching 100, had been one of the top university marching bands in the United States, noted for its elaborate dance formations and innovative style incorporating popular music.

But Robert Champion's death, and other reports of hazing, sullied its reputation.

Champion was beaten on a bus after a November 2011 football game in Orlando, Florida, as part of a band hazing ritual. The 26-year-old died "within an hour" afterward, medical examiners reported.

The Marching 100 was suspended by the university shortly after Champion's death.

The school has said it was making reforms to address the problem of hazing both on and off campus, including requiring all students to sign an anti-hazing pledge.

In a statement released Thursday, FAMU Interim President Larry Robinson said a "comprehensive" anti-hazing plan includes a revised student code of conduct procedures, enhanced means of reporting and investigating allegations, a new anti-hazing website, and more money for research on the problem.

Officials said the band's first post-suspension performance has not been scheduled. Its new director, Sylvester Young, reported for work earlier this month.

"When considering all of the measures we have put in place, I believe this constitutes us having the right conditions," Robinson said.

Champion's parents, Robert Sr. and Pam, said they were not consulted about the decision. Their attorney told CNN Atlanta affiliate WSB that hazing has occurred this year at the university.

"They are putting dollars over the students," Robert Champion Sr. said of FAMU.

Pam Champion said anti-hazing steps taken by FAMU are insufficient.

"You need a lot more in order to get that message out," she told WSB. "You need to be in those schools, in their face, every opportunity that you can get."

Robinson's predecessor as FAMU president, James Ammons, stepped down in July 2012 after trustees issued a no-confidence motion in his performance. The vote followed a series of investigations after Champion's death. The vote also related to financial audits that resulted from the hazing investigation.

Twelve former students faced manslaughter charges in the Champion case, attorneys familiar with the case said in March. The band member's roommate in May pleaded nolo contendere, or no contest, to a felony charge of hazing resulting in death and first-degree hazing.

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