FAU Students Stage Protest Over GEO Naming Rights (UPDATED)
Last week, we told you about how Florida Atlantic University sold the naming rights for its football stadium to the GEO Group -- a company that not only happens to be one of the world's largest for-profit operators of detention centers, prisons, and correctional facilities but also has a long trail of human rights abuse and an even shadier history of trying to cover it all up.
(They're on to us. Quick! Delete our Wikipedia page!)
As a result of this, around 100 protesters marched to Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders' office Monday afternoon to stage a sit-in.
Update: Saunders spoke briefly to the protesters in the lobby of her office. She says she plans to hold a Q&A session on Friday at noon on campus.
The protesters are demanding that FAU give the $6 million it received back to GEO for the right to name the stadium for the next 12 years.
Meanwhile, ACLU of Florida attorney Julie Ebenstein joined in the protest, which was organized over the weekend, to fight back against the university's letting a company with a long history of human-rights abuses place its name on the football stadium.
"By allowing GEO Group to use the university as a prop in a campaign to whitewash their record, FAU is participating in an effort to desensitize Floridians to the horrors within the prisons-for-profit industry," Ebenstein said. "No glowing logo on the side of a stadium can stamp out the shameful record of neglect and mistreatment at GEO Group facilities. FAU's willingness to portray GEO as just another good corporate citizen may ultimately smooth the path for a further expansion of prisons-for-profit in Florida, when evidence shows that handing control of our prisons to private corporations harms our communities and neglects true criminal justice reform."
For its part, GEO Vice President for Corporate Affairs Pablo E. Paez responded to the protest and the allegations, calling the accusations lies and telling everyone how GEO donates a lot of money, so people should lay off.
Among the things Paez says:
"Our company has always emphasized the importance of educational and rehabilitation programs. Over the last ten years, more than 170,000 men and women entrusted to our care have graduated from GEO's programs, including GED programs, vocational training certifications, life skills courses, college enrollment courses, substance abuse treatment and therapeutic community programs...
The GEO Group Foundation, contributes more than $1 million annually to scholarships, local charities, public schools and other worthy causes, illustrating our commitment to education and rehabilitation. Our company and our foundation have had a long-standing relationship with Florida Atlantic University and have supported the University's scholarship, educational, and athletic priorities for well over a decade, and we employ FAU alumni and current students throughout South Florida. We're proud of this long-standing relationship and that our recently announced charitable gift will continue to support the University's continued growth."
"I would also like to provide you with some additional facts that address some of the often cited and unfair criticisms we have seen in recent days. For instance, a number of media reports cite problems at a facility formerly operated by GEO in Mississippi, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, quoting a report by the Department of Justice issued in November 2010. What those media reports fail to disclose is that our company only assumed management of the facility in late August 2010, and the findings related to problems that preceded GEO's involvement at the facility, when it was operated by different private operator. The fact is that between the time GEO assumed management at the facility and early 2012 when the facility was audited by the American Correctional Association (ACA), the foremost independent accreditation entity in the United States, the facility received a perfect score of 100%, a rare accomplishment in our industry. The significant improvements made by GEO directly resulted in the facility turnaround that led to the achievement of a perfect accreditation score. I have attached for your review a copy of the press release and meeting minutes by ACA validating the achievement of a perfect score during GEO's tenure."
FAU has also responded, saying:
"Higher education is faced with many fiscal challenges, and philanthropic assistance to
universities has become vital to maintaining the programs and services offered to students.
Thanks to the efforts of so many faculty and staff, FAU has worked diligently to ensure
increased private funding and The GEO Group embraces the mission of this University. In
addition, The GEO Group Foundation contributes more than $1 million annually to scholarships, local charities, public schools and other worthy causes, illustrating the company's commitment to education and rehabilitation."
No doubt Owlcatraz-gate won't end here.
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