In what can only be described as a rare bout of good sense, FAU administrators have decided to forgo disciplinary proceedings against seven students involved in a March 22 demonstration on the school's Jupiter campus. The seven were protesting the school's naming rights deal with global private prison operator GEO Group.
Instead, in emails yesterday, Dean of Students Corey King told the students of his "disappointment" in them and hoped they could "appreciate the impact that the incident had on [FAU] President [Mary Jane] Saunders."
Unmentioned was the impact Saunders' 2010 silver Lexus had that day on student protester Britni Hiatt. Hiatt was struck and slightly injured by the vehicle as a panicky Saunders pulled away from a campus parking lot rather than meet with students.
It was a quick about-face by the administration, who informed the students just one week ago they were under investigation. Dropping the probe was a good idea too, for a couple of reasons.
One was that the investigation smacked of retaliation for the students' role in shaming the school out of the ill-conceived arrangement with the GEO Group, notorious for its abysmal human rights record. Faculty on the Jupiter campus rebelled rather than mouth support of the administration's version of the March 22 events. The ACLU spoke out in their defense.
The other was that police and student versions of the events differ greatly, police blaming the students for Hiatt's injury, the students accusing Saunders of fleeing the scene. Publicly available photos (like that above, this and these) of the events cast doubt on claims Saunders was "surrounded" or had reason to feel, as Brown wrote, "physically intimidated, threatened and confined."
A full and fair investigation of the students' conduct might well have ended up as an indictment of Saunders' conduct.
What the school should be investigating is the events -- including its own conduct -- surrounding the "step-on-the-word-'Jesus'" classroom exercise conducted some weeks ago by communications instructor Dr. Deandre Poole. The exercise led to cries of religious persecution from the right-wing blogosphere, death threats against Poole (who has had to go into hiding), and an outburst of parochial pandering from FAU administration and (who'da thunk?) Gov. Rick Scott.
The school's failure to stand up for academic freedom in that affair has been a disgrace and will only open the door to further attacks from anyone made uncomfortable by free inquiry. Now that the witch hunt of the Jupiter Seven is done, let FAU clear the air as to what happened in Poole's classroom.
A petition in support of academic freedom and Poole is here.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com
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