Monday, May 14, 2012

Orlando Sentinel editorial board becomes exactly what it previously criticized

Unpopularity with certain Florida newspaper editorial boards is a tough fact of life that the best FAMU presidents of recent decades have had to face.

The editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) had a borderline hatred of former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries. The Tallahassee Democrat’s editorial didn’t care for him much, either. That’s why both boards became huge cheerleading sections for Castell Bryant. Castell used her interim presidency as a platform to trash the achievements of the Humphries years.

Neither the Times nor the Democrat was very happy when the former provost and vice-president for academic affairs of the Humphries administration received the nod to become FAMU’s new president in 2007. James H. Ammons let both newspapers know from his first months in office that he would not be another Castell. Back when St. Pete Times editorial board member Bill Maxwell proudly quoted Castell’s statement that FAMU students were twos on a four-point scale, the Ammons administration returned fire by defending the quality of the student body and calling her comments “disturbing.”

But despite all that Ammons has done to clean up the financial and accreditation mess that Castell left, he still hasn’t been able to convince the Times or the Democrat editorial boards that he’s a better president than Castell. The executive editor of the Democrat, Bob Gabordi, remains one of Castell's chat buddies.

The editorial board of the Orlando Sentinel that once joined the Times and the Democrat in their praise of Castell during her years in office seemed like it had turned a new leaf this year and decided to try and be fair to FAMU. But that act didn’t last very long.

Back on Dec. 20, the Sentinel’s editorial board spoke out against those who wanted to treat a student death at FAMU differently than they would treat a student death at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

“We can't help but point out that while hazing wasn't at issue in the death of Ereck Plancher, no state leaders called on University of Central Florida President John Hitt to step aside in 2008 amid serious allegations of negligence by the football staff. Neither should they have,” the editorial board wrote.

But now the Sentinel’s editorial board is calling for Ammons to resign over the hazing incident that took the life of Marching 100 member Robert Champion’s. It still hasn’t called for Hitt’s resignation even though a jury found UCF negligent and ordered the university’s athletic association to pay $10M.

ESPN reported that Plancher, a football player, “collapsed and died following conditioning drills at the school's football complex in March 2008. Orange County medical examiner Joshua Stephany and three experts hired by Plancher family attorneys testified he died from complications of sickle cell trait. The jurors found the athletic association was negligent and failed to do everything possible to save Plancher's life.”

Hitt isn’t the only State University System of Florida president whom most of the state’s editorial boards didn't try and chase away after a student death that eventually resulted in a costly civil settlement.

Florida State University (FSU) President Sandy D’Alemberte kept most of his editorial board support when football player Devaughn Darling died after a workout session in 2001. FSU reached a settlement of $2M one year after D’Alemberte retired. University of Florida (UF) President Charles Young also maintained most of his editorial board support when football player Eraste Autin died after a workout session in 2001. UF settled with the family for an undisclosed amount in 2006.

The FSU, UF, and UCF student deaths all followed years of scandals that showed a long-running lack of administrative control over their football programs.

The editorial boards of the Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Democrat, and Orlando Sentinel might need to be reminded that Rattlers are not ignorant of the news and know when the university isn’t being treated fairly.

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