Florida University’s Partnership With Private Prison Group Creates Uproar On Campus
(MintPress) – Dozens of student activists at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) staged a sit-in in at FAU President Mary Jo Saunders’ office earlier this week, protesting the university’s announcement last week that FAU had sold the naming rights to the school’s new football stadium to the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company.
After more than a two-year search for a corporate sponsor, FAU announced on Feb. 19 that GEO Group Inc., will pay $6 million to the school from the prison company’s charitable foundation, The GEO Group Foundation, over the next 12 years.
See Mint Press News’ prior coverage of private prison ties to FAU here.
Students demanded the school revoke their agreement with GEO, citing the prison company’s human rights violations at its facilities, some of which are in Florida, as their reason.
Martha Brown, a graduate student in education, said she was protesting the GEO partnership because “prisons are full of under-educated people. It’s where our society locks up the poor, the minorities, the uneducated. Taking this money from GEO is reprehensible. It sends the message that money overrides all moral and ethical considerations. I think the president should return the money and find a new sponsor.”
According to the Palm Beach Post, Saunders emerged from her office two hours into the sit-in and announced that she had agreed to schedule a one-hour public meeting with the university community to discuss the issue further with students and any other interested parties on Friday, March 1 at noon.
Last week when FAU announced the partnership with the private prison company, Saunders called GEO “a wonderful company” and said “we are very proud to partner with them.” But Saunders seemed to have changed her tune yesterday about GEO saying, “I don’t know everything about this company,” but she quickly added that she thought some of the accusations against the firm were untrue.
Earlier in the day there were about 100 demonstrators at a different spot on campus protesting the university’s decision to accept GEO Group’s money.
“The board of trustees should have done due diligence on GEO before they signed that agreement,” said student protest leader Gonzalo Vizcardo. “What (Saunders) said about GEO being a wonderful company was outrageous.” He said some students had demanded that Saunders resign.
Among the protesters was Julie Ebenstein, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She read a statement that accused GEO of having “a well-publicized record of abuse and neglect.”
Ebenstein also quoted an order from U.S. Judge Carlton Reeves, who described one GEO-run facility for minors and older teenage prisoners, Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Mississippi, as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhumane acts and conditions” and “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”
Philosophy Professor Simon Glynn said he had not yet done his own investigation into GEO Group but that the accusations against the company worried him, especially since GEO’s chairman, George Zoley, is an FAU alumni.
“We don’t seem to be doing our jobs adequately because it appears we may be graduating people from the university who are ethically challenged,” Glynn said. “I had rather hoped that the university would come down on the side of civilization.”
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