Open Letter to President Saunders and Board of Trustees Chairman Anthony Barbar
from the Stop #Owlcatraz Coalition
By signing a $6 million stadium-naming contract with human rights abuser the GEO Group, you betrayed the stated values of Florida Atlantic University. You violated our principles of “equal rights and equal justice,” “mutual regard for the rights and liberties of all persons,” “social responsibility,” and “ethical standards in all areas of human activity”, and disregarded many voices within the university community. To avoid addressing this injustice, you have gone to the media and exaggerated the actions of student demonstrators. In the face of these distractions, we, the Stop #Owlcatraz Coalition, remain committed to disseminating the truth.
The GEO Group has a well-documented history of human rights abuses. Amnesty International reports that GEO lobbies for anti-immigrant legislation. In addition, the NAACP has voted to abolish all private prisons due to the industry’s lobbying for mass incarceration, because the private prison industry’s business model depends on growing numbers of prisoners and lengthening sentences. (GEO itself states this here, on page 34.) We, a coalition of FAU students, faculty, staff, and alumni, hold our university’s values dear. We will not stand idly by as our university’s stadium advertises a company that understaffs their facilities, under trains and underpays their staff, limits (and at times denies) health care (page 6), and creates and perpetuates dangerous conditions to maximize profit. We stand unwavering in our demand for you to uphold our university’s commitment to justice by reversing the stadium naming rights deal with GEO Group immediately.
On Friday, March 22, about a dozen students gathered on the MacArthur campus with signs reading “We, the HC [Honors College] politely request an academic discussion”.
Faculty at FAU requested an academic dialogue. President Saunders, you declined. And, in your haste to avoid addressing the demonstrators, their request, and the facts about GEO that we and the media have consistently presented, you hit a student demonstrator with your car. Then, without hesitation, you left the scene; drove the wrong way out of the parking-lot and ran two stop signs while five police officers stood by. The student demonstrator is an exemplary member of the student body, an Elite Owl Leadership Ambassador, an Honors College senior, and an integral member of several active and award-winning clubs who bridges two campuses. She and her family still have not heard from you. Ignoring the truth does not make it go away, and speaking to the press before your students and affected individuals leads us to further question your priorities. The truth is that you, President Saunders, evaded an academic conversation about the GEO Group, physically harmed an exemplary student, and then rationalized your behavior with allegations of fear. (Images here.) Chairman Barbar, you were not present, yet demanded an apology from students in an attempt to obscure the facts of the hit and run.
We demonstrate peacefully because we believe in human rights and in FAU, and we respect deeply every person’s own right to safety. Free speech is not a privilege at FAU - it is a basic human right enshrined not only in the Constitution, but in FAU’s statement of values. The truth remains unchanged: we are, and always have been, committed to nonviolence as both a tactic and an ideal.
Speaking truth to power in the face of injustice is not an act of aggression; it is an act of integrity. We remain committed to FAU’s values. We ask you, President Saunders and Chairman Barbar, to do the same.
President Saunders and Chairman Barbar, it is not too late to end your efforts to divert attention from the truth. The University Faculty Senate of FAU, over 67,000 people who have signed petitions (these, these, these), and human rights organizations such as the ACLU and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights all stand with the truth. You still have the chance to stop this onslaught of negative publicity for our university by breaking the deal with GEO; we call on you to do so.
The Stop #Owlcatraz Coalition