A full eight hours after the intended debut of the new director of the Marching 100, Florida A&M University announced that negotiations were ongoing with the candidate. If the press release tells the full story about the delay, then students, alums and supporters of FAMU should be excited about the commitment the university has to rebuild and protect the interest of its world-famous marching band. From the press release:
“We felt we had a firm commitment on Monday, but there were concerns expressed by the candidate regarding the new academic structure in the Department of Music,” said Interim Provost and chair of the search committee Rodner Wright. ”We are continuing our discussion with the candidate. In lieu of the new discussion, we want to make sure that we are doing what is in the best interest of university.”
From that statement, it would seem that FAMU is saying to the intended candidate, “these are the rules. Get with it or get out.” Job announcement aside, the new director of the Marching 100 has one priority; deliver a world-class band with students and staff who won’t break the rules. The university has a renewed focus on its controls to prevent ineligible musicians from marching and traveling, to end suspicion around management of the band’s finances, and most of all, to make sure that students are inspired to more mature thinking and decisions about hazing.
A tall order even for the most seasoned administrator, especially with the eyes of SACS and the world peering in on how this reformation will take shape over the next year.
FAMU made a sharp move with this announcement, and understands what it means to the university and the reaction to it. The hiring of the new Marching 100 director is the first sign of a potential date for the band’s return; if they are comfortable to hand over the Mercedes-Benz of HBCU marching bands to someone, then certainly it wouldn’t be long until they let him take the wheel.
But if that director has questions about his autonomy, or the structure in which he will have to lead, enforce policy and report, then FAMU has to send the message early and clearly that there is no room for doubt or confusion. If the intended candidate appears to be a less-than-perfect fit for FAMU and the 100, its better that both parties are clear about expectations now, instead of when an adversarial news outlet like the Orlando Sentinel searches for students to blow the whistle on more hazing or impropriety when band camp starts, or around the second anniversary of Robert Champion’s death.
Famuans should be encouraged by the institution’s hard stance on its new band director. For the upcoming year, he will be the most scrutinized official on the campus, even more than the new president, because the Marching 100 director will be able to shield the president from many of the questions and concerns about the band with his charisma, character, and commitment to the band’s long-term success.
It’s better that FAMU pauses now to make sure the candidate is in step with the university’s new song, then for a misstep of leadership or judgement to undo all that the university has invested in the early rebuilding of the Marching 100 brand.