TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Longtime Florida A&M Band Director Julian White says mounting troubles with the band following the hazing-related death of drum major Robert Champion are a factor in his decision to retire.
The 71-year-old White unexpectedly retired Thursday after serving nearly 40 years with the Marching 100 - the last 14 years as band director.
White had spent the last several months fighting to keep his job after administrators placed him on administrative leave for allegedly not doing enough to control hazing rituals in the band.
Then this week new documents revealed 101 band members should have been ineligible to play in the 457-member band, including three students charged in Champion's death.
White admits he shares some responsibility for the ineligible band members, but he says the Athletic Department and Controller's Office was also involved in issuing per diem checks to band members for trips and should've been checking students' eligibility.
"There has to be a check and balance that says I am giving you money for 400 people. Now those persons should be verified if they are properly enrolled in school and in good academic standing. To say that is my sole responsibility is just not something that's truth or fair because the final decision to issue checks should be after a complete review that a student is in fact eligible to receive per diem."
White says he's comfortable with his decision to retire because now he'll be able to spend more time with his wife, eight-year-old son and grandchildren.
But he admits the growing problems with the band helped convince him it was time to go.
"Absolutely yes. And I say that somewhat from a standpoint of not being selfish and by that I'm referring to the fact that I wanted to return to the Florida A&M band to be a part of the rebuilding process. But that may have been selfish on my part."
White says he feels FAMU administrators tried to make him the scapegoat for hazing problems in the band and he calls that unfair.
"I did feel very strongly that I was the fall guy for this and that all the blame was directed toward me that I was the cause of this and my negligence in that way and I don't think that was fair at all. I had documented evidence that I had reported hazing, that I had a history of reporting hazing, as well as referring persons who were either the victims of hazing of the perpetrators of hazing to the administration and appropriate departments. And so much more could have been done to prevent this kind of thing from happening."
The band was suspended following Champion's death. The FAMU Board of Trustees will meet Monday to consider whether the band should remain on suspension. White offers this recommendation.
"I would recommend that the band not be reinstated at this point and I say that with a great deal of respect and appreciation for the Marching 100 fans. I've always said the band does not belong to us. It belongs to the city of Tallahassee, the state of Florida and the nation."
Dr. Julian White was part of the FAMU marching band since 1973 and helped shape it to become an internationally renowned group. The band has played at Super Bowls, the Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards and presidential inaugurations.