SBD/March 4, 2013/Facilities

FAU Meeting Regarding Controversial GEO Group Deal Fails To Satisfy Protesters

FAU officials do not think the naming-rights deal will give the school a bad stigma
Florida Atlantic Univ. students and officials on Friday met to discuss the school's controversial stadium naming-rights deal with private prison company GEO Group, but what was "billed as a dialogue" on the matter instead turned out to be "two sides talking by each other with little or no meeting of minds," according to John Lantigua of the PALM BEACH POST. The hour-long exchange in general was "an argument between economic pragmatism and political idealism." The students "wanted to speak about human rights" while FAU President Mary Jane Saunders "wanted to talk about school finances." Saunders said, "It's a done deal." She added that the gift was a "philanthropic act that would greatly benefit the school." Those who opposed the deal "asked heated and sometimes angry questions about the agreement," while Saunders, flanked by numerous university officials, including BOT Chair Anthony Barbar, "replied with tempered answers that were barely audible at times." Saunders said that the money would "go for mortgage payments on the stadium and what was left over would mostly go for athletic scholarships." She also "repeatedly defended" GEO Group Founder, Chair & CEO George Zoley. Students opposed to the deal "repeatedly brought up incidents of substandard treatment of prisoners at GEO facilities, some of which have been confirmed by courts and reported in the media" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/2).

HEATED MEETING: In Ft. Lauderdale, Anne Geggis reported FAU associate political science professor & Graduate Studies Dir Kevin Wagner "chided participants for speaking out of turn." He "began the question and answer period by calling on people who supported the decision, inciting snorts of derision." Protestors said that he was "not their choice for moderator." FAU student Rocco Voyeur said that he learned of the naming-rights deal "on the satirical late-night Comedy Central show 'The Colbert Report.'" Voyeur during the meeting asked, "Are you concerned at all that this has given the university a stigma?" Saunders then "gestured toward" Barbar. She said, "He is very proud to accept this gift" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/2). In West Palm Beach, Randy Schultz writes FAU's message at the meeting essentially was, "We’re keeping the money. If you don’t like it, tough." FAU's strategy is to "talk past questions and wait for the controversy to die down." Schultz: "To a degree, that may work. Ironically, though, FAU never will get totally past the controversy because of that very prominent placing of GEO’s name" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/4).
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