UPDATE 7:50 p.m.: They did "levitate the Pentagon"! Though our initial post was about students playing an April Fools' joke, the GEO deal was indeed canceled, it was announced this evening. Details below.
Students opposed to FAU's decision to sell naming rights to the school's football field to the GEO Group, the world's largest private prison operator, have declared victory in their cause.
They're celebrating with an 11:30 a.m. march today at the stadium. Whether they intend to levitate the building is an open question.
Today was the due date for (serial human rights abuser) GEO Group's first payment for the naming rights. That it happened to fall on April Fools' Day was a happy coincidence for those who recognize the deal as one of the all-time great public-relations gaffes -- not to mention an insult to common decency and a degradation of the school's name.
So yeah -- the celebration is a spoof. The students once again hope to call attention to the GEO Group's horrid record. Details here.
In reality, GEO's check is in the mail -- one-half million smackers, the first of 12 biannual payments. That may sound like a lot of money. In fact, it is a lot of money. But the stain on the school's name has already cost it millions in bad publicity (What's the price tag for a prime slot on the Colbert Report, whose host happily roasted the school for a national audience February 21?) and is predicted to cost them many more in lost contributions.
Beyond that, there is the matter of the value of the school's good name. But after the recent, ongoing series of outrages associated with the university -- Professor James Tracy's ill-chosen comments about the Newtown Massacre, an assault on academic freedom arising from a communications class exercise, school President Mary Jane Saunders striking a student with her Lexus -- what reputation the school had has crashed and burned.
It may still be a good place to party, however, and the Stop Owlcatraz! coalition hopes to have fun as well as raise questions at today's march. The group invites the community at large.
UPDATE 7:50 p.m.: In a stunning, serendipitously timed turn of events, GEO Group this evening announced it was, in fact, canceling the naming-rights deal.
The announcement came as opposition to the deal, initiated by the student-led StopOwlcatraz! Coalition, gathered steam. The FAU Faculty Senate came out against the deal March 22. A national array of civil rights, immigrant, and faith organizations issued a statement of opposition this morning.
In the company's announcement, GEO CEO George Zoley wrote that "What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO's goodwill" had "surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations." An unrepentant Zoley went on to tout the company's role as a jobs creator and boast of its "long-term support of the University."
Short-term, this is the best thing the company could have done for the school. Long-term, it might consider funding programs in, oh, immigration studies and penal reform.
Protest group leaders were elated and promised to follow today's march with a similar festive gathering in the near future. They declined to say what target they'll levitate next.
More seriously, in a news release, they said this:
This shows that students, faculty and the community working together can speak out for justice and human rights and win - even against a $ 2 billion company and a university president.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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