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FAU President Rattled by Student Protest? Reins in Friday Meeting over GEO Group Stadium Deal

FAU's tone-deaf decision to grant global private prison operator GEO Group naming rights to the school's athletics stadium has turned into a public relations disaster. But it may yet prove to be a teachable moment -- for school administrators as much as for students.

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Having wrung a commitment from school president Mary Jane Saunders for a public forum Friday on the clusterfuck, the students and activists of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition are moving to get the deal undone -- and to make sure the forum is on the up-and-up. 

-At 1 p.m. today a teach-in is set for the "Free Speech Lawn" of the school's Boca Raton campus. A screening of excerpts from the documentary "Immigrants for Sale," depicting the private prison industry's human rights abuses and political string-pulling, will be followed by discussion and analysis of the naming rights deal's impact on the FAU community. 

-Student government representatives are drawing up a sense-of-the-student-body resolution to be presented to the Boca campus's student House of Representatives when it meets Friday at 3:30 p.m. Details of the resolution are unknown.

-The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition returns to the Free Speech Lawn at 11 a.m. tomorrow to rally in advance of the noon meeting with President Saunders. 

The terms of that meeting and Q&A are the subject of prickly negotiations between the coalition and Saunders, with Saunders's advisor Dr. Kevin Lanning as go-between. 

In an email to Lanning early this morning, the coalition charged that the administration "wants to violate the terms of the agreement we made in good faith in front of the press and members of the public on Monday." (Video here.)

Points in dispute:

-Saunders wants to require that questioners be drawn from a sign-up sheet that includes the questioner's affiliation. The coalition charges this will allow Saunders to "cherry-pick speakers...based on favorable political views."

-Saunders has committed to answer questions only from FAU students. The coalition maintains Saunders "explicitly stated that the larger community would have a voice at this forum."

-The coalition asks that each questioner be allowed one follow-up clarifying question. Saunders wants to leave it to the meeting's moderator, FAU political science professor Kevin Wagner, to "make a judgement concerning whether and when follow-up questions are appropriate."

(Moderator Wagner was chosen by Lanning, even though Saunders stated Monday that the coalition should propose a moderator. In an email to the coalition, Lanning said he preempted them because they failed to act in a timely manner.)

-Most problematic, perhaps, is Saunders's threat to terminate the meeting "if anyone in attendance is disrespectful or disruptive." Calling this "a demand for things out of our power," the coalition committed to "remain respectful and professional" but asked that "incidents of disruption be addressed on an individual basis" rather than through "absurd and anti-democratic" "collective punishment."

The coalition's last message to Lanning asked that Saunders act in such a way as to "remind the FAU community, the press and the public that FAU is an institution that values democracy, free speech and human rights."

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

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