One reason Alcoholics Anonymous is successful is that it shuns euphemism. When people say, "I was snockered," or "three sheets to the wind," or "feeling no pain," a discussion leader will politely interrupt: "The word is 'drunk.' "
Florida A&M University, struggling to recover from abusive self-indulgence of another kind, needs such uncompromising self-examination. The historically black university's current hangover started with the death of Robert Champion, a drum major for the famed Marching 100 band who was beaten to death in what's euphemistically called a "hazing" ritual aboard a chartered bus in Orlando after the Florida Classic last November.
But its imbedded problems were festering long before the Champion tragedy, which caused FAMU President James Ammons to indefinitely suspend the band.
A state audit a few years ago showed $43 million in spending that did not go through the board of trustees. A lot of it simply couldn't be accounted for. State property -- from computers to golf carts to receipts for football ticket sales -- was just gone.
The Board of Governors and then-Chancellor Mark Rosenberg set up a task force to straighten out the administration. The university's academic accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was threatened. FAMU kept its accreditation, but SACS is again looking at two of its schools.
A fiscal officer recently left FAMU after it was disclosed that bogus audits were submitted to Ammons and the trustees. Two professors were ousted because they were present during some band hazing, which occurred at the home of one of the men. That off-campus incident was reported to the FAMU police department, which didn't tell Tallahassee police until after the two-year limit on prosecution had expired.
The FAMU trustees reprimanded Ammons last winter and, last week, took an 8-4 vote of "no confidence" in him. Ammons insists he won't resign.
Among things the trustees didn't like was the participation of 101 ineligible students in the band.
FAMU has much to be proud of. It's the national leader, most years, in producing black baccalaureate degrees and outpaces even some Ivy League schools in attracting national merit scholars. Its pharmacy and business schools are nationally respected and its motto "Excellence With Caring" embodies its appeal to thousands of kids who are the first in their families to attend college.
Most colleges benefit from having a large, loyal alumni group spread across the nation, but FAMU suffers from having its fierce defenders. Any criticism is met with cries of racism, complaints about airing dirty linens and claims that the same chaos goes on at most universities.
No, it doesn't.
Ammons last week asked the trustees to hire a special anti-hazing assistant to the president and a compliance officer for the band. He also proposed $800,000 for a "re-branding campaign" to improve FAMU's image, along with promotion of the FAMU public-information officer to vice-presidential status.
It's a shame that FAMU needs to hire executives to make people obey the law or to burnish its image. "Re-branding" is the sort of euphemism Alcoholics Anonymous would never accept.
As every AA member knows, nobody ever solved a problem without frankly confronting it, no matter how painful that is.
Bill Cotterell is a retired reporter of the Florida Capitol press corps. He can be contacted at email@example.com