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In Open Letters, FAU Faculty and Father of Hurt Student Ask President Saunders to Apologize

Ya gotta hate Mondays. Especially if you're FAU President Mary Jane Saunders and you come in and open your email and find two open letters "to the FAU community" raking the school over the coals for its handling of two recent scandals.

One letter came from John Hiatt, of Wellington, whose daughter was among the students involved in protests that shamed the school into 86ing the sale to global private prison operator GEO Group of naming rights to the school's stadium. The other came from FAU faculty, and like Hiatt's addressed the school's response to the protests, as well as its decision to throw communications instructor Deandre Poole to the Christian Right wolves rather than defend the principle of academic freedom.

In Open Letters, FAU Faculty and Father of Hurt Student Ask President Saunders to Apologize

Hiatt's letter demands an apology from Saunders for striking his daughter, Britni Hiatt, with the president's 2010 silver Lexus rather than stop to talk with her and other student protestors on the school's Jupiter campus last month.

School officials claim Saunders was "surrounded" by student protestors and was "physically intimidated, threatened and confined." Student witnesses' statements and photo evidence are, to say the least, equivocal, and at worst, show Saunders recklessly fleeing the scene.

The faculty letter seconds Hiatt's motions about the Jupiter protest and contrasts the school's actions in that affair with its treatment of Dr. Poole. According to the faculty Poole was directly threatened by a student who

"pounded his fist into the palm of his hand as he expressed distaste for a classroom exercise. Although this student was initially suspended for his aggression, you later issued a video apology and retracted the suspension. The students who carried out a non-violent protest were rebuked and the student who physical threatened an instructor is pardoned."

The faculty letter asks the administration to open an investigation of the Jupiter incident and to send a letter of reprimand to the student who allegedly threatened Dr. Poole.

Here's the full texts of both letters, Hiatt's first:

President Saunders Owes Us An Apology

Dear Florida Atlantic University Faculty,

On Friday, March 22nd, my daughter, Britni Hiatt, was struck by a vehicle driven by President Saunders during a student demonstration on the FAU Jupiter campus about the GEO Group stadium-naming rights deal. She did not stop to see if she was OK but instead sped down the wrong way on a one-way street.

On Sunday, March 24th, Chairman Barbar released a statement demanding that the students apologize to President Saunders for the events of March 22nd.

As Britni's father and a concerned parent, I called President Saunders' office on Monday, March 25th, requesting to speak with her.

On Wednesday, March 27, Chief of FAU Police Charles Lowe called me to discuss my request to speak with President Saunders. I reiterated that I wished to speak with President Saunders and declined to speak further with Chief Lowe, and he said he would relay the message to President Saunders.

On Thursday, March 28th, Dr. Charles Brown, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, called me, also offering to speak about the hit-and-run. I repeated again that, although Dr. Brown may have been present that day, he was not driving the vehicle and therefore I declined to speak with him regarding the incident. He, too, said he would relay the message.

On April 2, the day after the FAU/GEO Group deal was called off, I called President Saunders' office, again wishing to speak with her regarding the incident, and I left a message. Later that day she gave an on-camera interview to Dylan Bouscher from the University Press, where she agreed with Chairman Barbar that students from the March 22nd demonstration, including Britni, owed her an apology and that they were doing "things that were not, actually, legal."

On April 3rd, Britni and the six students who gave sworn witness statements about her being struck by President Saunders' vehicle received an email from Dr. Corey King, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, saying that they were being investigated for possible student code of conduct violations. On Tuesday, April 9th, they received letters stating that they, in fact, had not violated the student code of conduct and that no further disciplinary proceedings would be initiated.

It has now been nearly three weeks since I first attempted contacting President Saunders about the March 22 incident, and I have not spoken with her once.

Since this incident, what I have witnessed is nothing short of a corporate coverup led by President Saunders.

The facts are clear. President Saunders has exercised extremely poor judgement throughout this entire ordeal. She should be ashamed of her actions as this, in my opinion, is conduct less than becoming of an executive and university head.

Britni and her fellow student demonstrators, at no time, presented a threat to anyone's security, much less that of President Saunders. They carried harmless paper poster-boards and the only single act of aggression was the striking of my daughter with a vehicle driven by President Saunders.

As a consequence of all this, my daughter Britni was hurt, physically and emotionally, and President Saunders has not been accountable or even accessible for her actions.

Britni and her fellow student demonstrators should be applauded for their will to stand for what they believe in. This very action is what has shaped this nation into what it is today.

I am extremely disappointed in how President Saunders, Chairman Barbar and the FAU Police have handled this entire ordeal.

It is not President Saunders who is owed an apology but rather my daughter Britni, her fellow student demonstrators and their parents, as well as the entire FAU community for President Saunders' reckless behavior, her twisting of truths and the audacity to blame others for her poor judgment.

Respectfully,

John S. Hiatt

 

Here's the faculty letter:

Open Letter to Corey King, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students

12 April 2013 Dear Dr. King,

We, faculty of the Boca, Davie, and Jupiter campuses, present this open letter to you in your role as Associate Vice President and Dean of Students. We are deeply troubled with the administration's response to the students who protested on the Jupiter campus, March 22, 2013. We are especially upset with the letter you sent to them on April 9, 2013 that concluded your investigation by framing the one man and six women students as intimidating or physically threatening to President Saunders.

It disturbs us that although President Saunders' side view mirror struck Britni Hiatt, the President did not issue a public or private apology to this student. The students, faculty, and wider university community, and we are sure the administration, are well aware that Dr. Saunders likely is in violation of Florida statutes.

For the many of us who teach at FAU and hold our students in high regard, we find it extremely problematic that the administration did not express concern for this student's well being. Instead, you summoned Ms. Hiatt and the six other students to an investigatory conference last week causing more stress to these students at the end of a very difficult semester.

A striking comparison is the treatment of Dr. Poole who was directly threatened by student, Ryan Rotela, the student who pounded his fist into the palm of his hand as he expressed distaste for a classroom exercise. Although this student was initially suspended for his aggression, you later issued a video apology and retracted the suspension. The students who carried out a non-violent protest were rebuked and the student who physical threatened an instructor is pardoned.

We are confounded that despite University policy stating the video surveillance of public areas including parking lots, no video account of the interaction between the seven students, the five officers present, and the President are available. We were also distressed to learn that the apology issued by the MacArthur Campus to President Saunders was forced upon them by the administration. It seems that an investigation into administration procedures and actions is required.

We request that President Saunders make a direct or public apology for accidently clipping Britni Hiatt with her side view mirror. We also request that you retract your letter that suggests the students protesting FAU's association with GEO Group were threatening in any way and send a letter to Ryan Rotela, reprimanding him for physically intimidating Dr. Deandre Poole, who after all, was removed from instruction due to concern for his safety. Meeting our requests would begin to show the kind of support faculty and students expect from their administration and demonstrate interest in cultivating a university community.

The letter was signed by "Marina Karides and Members of the Davie Campus;

Rosanna M. Gatens, Meredith Mountford, Carla Carlage, Raphael Dalleo, and Members of the Boca Campus;

Douglas T. McGetchin, Daniel R. White, and Members of the Jupiter Campus"

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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