Broward News

FAU Students Still Fighting GEO Group Naming Rights Deal (UPDATED)

It's G-Day at FAU today, probably one of many to come, as the school's sale of its athletics field's naming rights to global private prison operator/serial human rights abuser GEO Group continues to draw fire from students and faculty opposed to the deal. 

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Student members of the Stop Owlcatraz! coalition plan a demonstration to greet school president Mary Jane Saunders as she exits a 10 a.m., faculty-only "Coffee with the President" on the school's Jupiter campus this morning. The students are requesting that Saunders join in a forum to be held there "about the prison industry, FAU's decision-making process, and the GEO Group." 

Over the previous few days the coalition has, among other things, sent requests to a variety of local bodies -- MedUTech, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of PBC, the Business Development Board of PBC --  asking them to suspend Saunders's membership on the groups' boards of directors. They argue that her endorsement of the GEO Group's virtue violates the groups' charters. (We will cook and eat our keyboard, and livestream the meal, if any of those groups comply.)

Later, at 2 p.m. on the Boca Raton campus, the school's Faculty Senate meets in College of Nursing Room NU 201 to vote on a resolution expressing their disapproval of the GEO Group deal.  It is, as previously noted here, a toothless measure, a token gesture at best, though all the same the lowest possible bar to hurdle as a measure of the faculty's moral fiber and intellectual integrity.

We don't expect either of today's actions to persuade Saunders and/or her school's Board of Trustees to undo their $6 million sell-out. At best they may resort to more jawboning and delay. Sooner of later, opposition to the deal will move on to more militant tactics, including street theater and civil disobedience. Saunders and her GEO Group friends have lit a fire that will not soon go out.

UPDATE: 4 p.m.

After ninety minutes of debate and discussion over what FAU Faculty Senate President William McDaniel called "the most controversial issue" of his term in office, the body acquitted itself with some honor, voting 25-9 in favor of a resolution of disapproval of the GEOGroup naming rights deal. 

Those opposed to the measure offered various rationales: That GEO's history of abuses is poorly documented (it isn't), that GEO could be "reformed from within" by the university's collaboration with it (doubtful), and that the resolution "wouldn't change anything" (that remains to be seen). 

One speaker suggested faculty would do better to focus on issues like salary and tenure.

Those favoring the resolution cited -- in addition to the stigma of association with the company -- the precedent of the university's participation in disinvestment from apartheid South Africa and the naming rights deal's potential to cost the school more in future lost donations than it takes in from GEO.

It was universally agreed that FAU leadership handled the naming rights deal "very, very poorly," as Prof. Ron Nyhan put it, that there was a lack of transparency, a failure to fully investigate GEO's record, and no forethought for the predictable public relations disaster that followed.

The resolution reads: 

Whereas, faculty are concerned about the GEO Group's management of its institutions in the U.S. and abroad; and

Whereas, faculty oppose important administrative decisions being made without participation or input from faculty, staff, or other FAU stakeholders; and

Whereas, the GEO Group's business practices do not align with the missions of the university; and

Whereas, faculty think that the stadium naming has hurt the reputation of the university;

Be it resolved, that the faculty oppose naming the FAU football stadium the GEO Group Stadium.

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