Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders has agreed to meet Friday with students upset about a decision to name the football stadium after a prison operator.
About 100 students on Monday protested FAU’s decision last week to name the facility the GEO Group Stadium, after the Boca Raton-based company made a $6 million donation. Saunders said she will hold a public meeting at noon Friday in the recruiting room of the stadium to discuss the concerns.
While Saunders called GEO a “wonderful company,” protestors, describing the stadium deal as the ‘Owlkatraz’ project, say it has a track record of human rights violations. GEO was fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in June, and the company has lost lawsuits pertaining to mistreatment of inmates.
“We’re not going to sit here and watch our university make a laughing stock of our education so they can have some more resources,” said Catherine Armuelles, 29, of West Palm Beach.
Saunders said Monday she didn’t anticipate the gift would be controversial since the company is publicly traded and has had strong ties to FAU.
GEO Group was one of the first companies to buy a suite for the stadium, which opened in 2011. The company’s president and CEO, George Zoley, is a former chairman of the FAU Board of Trustees. The company has also hired FAU graduates, including two former student government presidents, Pablo Paez and Abe Cohen, who both work in the company’s corporate relations.
Saunders said the complaints against GEO may be unfair. The company released a statement saying criticism is based on “incomplete facts and a fundamental misunderstanding of what our company does.” One example cited was complaints of long stays for immigrant detainees at the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with who is detained or how long their cases are adjudicated. These are policy decisions made by the federal government,” the statement said.
In an oft-cited case of prison abuse in Mississippi, the company said the alleged incidents happened before it took over operations.
Student protestors arrived on the FAU lawn Monday morning holding up signs reading, “Profit from Pain is Inhumane,” and “GEO: Find Another University.” Some danced under a limbo stick as protestors shouted, “How low can you go?”
“We already have a problem with getting students to go to the stadium. Adding a controversy is only going to make it worse,” said Michael Cepeda, 21, of Boca Raton.
They then moved into the president’s office, where Saunders agreed to the Friday meeting.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss the impact of privatizing prisons,” she told the students.
But she showed no signs of declining GEO’s gift, which she said will be used for scholarships and to help pay off the debt of the $70 million stadium.
“This is a tough economic time,” she said. “I don’t’ think we’ll ever be at a point where we can get all of our social issues perfect.’’ We have a lot of students interested in rehabilitation and a lot of students working in this sector.”Copyright © 2015, South Florida