Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Faculty Senate votes on a resolution opposing FAU stadium rename

Photo by Michelle Friswell

The Faculty Senate took a stand against the GEO Group Stadium name at their meeting on Friday.

Several members of the Faculty Senate, a body of tenured-track professors governing FAU’s education policy, called into question on March 22 whether their voices on this issue would be heard and could make a difference. They discussed whether or not the documentation of GEO Group’s court cases were accurate.

GEO Group, the controversial corporation that runs private correctional facilities all over the world, has given a one-time donation of $6 million for the FAU football stadium naming rights.

“[A visitor to the FAU Stadium] pointed out that our decision is in fact a historic one,” Markus Schnidmeier from the Department of Mathematical Sciences said. “He pointed out that 50 years ago to this day yesterday, President John F. Kennedy closed the Alcatraz prison in San Francisco. So we have the opportunity to make an historic decision by reopening Owlcatraz.”

During the debate, which lasted approximately two hours, the Faculty Senate voted that they opposed the naming of FAU’s stadium as GEO Group Stadium.

The senate members voted 25 to 9 on a resolution written by current senator and former senate president Timothy Lenz. The resolution listed reasons why the senate opposed naming FAU’s stadium GEO Group Stadium, such as faculty not having a say in the decision-making process and the harm the naming has caused to the university’s reputation. According to Lenz, five out of 55 senators, or 10 faculty members out of the entire university, have to sign a resolution in order for it to be on the agenda at the meeting.

William McDaniel, current president of the Faculty Senate, said at the beginning of the meeting that if the resolution passed, he would present it to President Mary Jane Saunders and the Board of Trustees (BOT).

“It was clear by several statements of the members of the Board of Trustees that they are not going to change their decision on this,” Ronald Nyhan, incoming president of the senate, said.

He said that he didn’t think the resolution would change anything and that, instead, the senate should focus on doing things that could make a difference in the administration. He confirmed that he would vote against the resolution.

The members of the Faculty Senate were not aware of the decision to name FAU’s stadium before it was broadcast publicly, according to Lenz. He said that McDaniel represented them on the BOT, but the BOT’s unanimous vote on the naming decision was made without consulting the senate.

One member confirmed anonymously that they feared speaking out against the GEO Group controversy because it would oppose the FAU administrative decision. Lenz said he thought the reaction of the tenured faculty member was more out of caution than out of fear.

After being presented with the resolution at the meeting, Mike Harris, associate professor of anthropology, suggested to the Faculty Senate that they vote by secret ballot instead of roll call.

“There might be a truer account of what people feel about this situation if they can vote in secret,” Harris said.

Members of the Senate nodded their heads approvingly. McDaniel, moderator of the meeting, stayed neutral and asked the Senate for all in favor and for all opposed. The suggestion to vote by secret ballot instead of by roll call was approved and carried out, with two opposing.

McDaniel explained that each faculty member would be heard individually.

“We’ll go on one by one until everyone’s spoken,” McDaniel said.

Nyhan was the first to speak in opposition to the resolution.

“I don’t, as a representative of the senate, believe that the resolution really reflects the majority of the faculty here at FAU,” Nyhan said. “By that I’m not saying I support the decision, but I oppose the resolution.”

Jennifer Lowe, associate professor from the College of Arts & Letters, had different priorities supporting her stance on the issue.

“I’m more concerned with doing what I believe to be right than necessarily representing the rights of the majority,” she said.

Doug McGetchin, director of Peace Studies, shared concern for the people of the FAU.

“[The prison industry] is an industry that targets our students. Do we as a university community want to associate with this company?” he said.

It appeared unclear whether FAU had received other offers to name the stadium. Tom Monson, psychology professor and faculty senator, asked about this.

“I’m the director of the Foundation, and I don’t know,” McDaniel responded. According to FAU’s website, McDaniel is an ex-officio member of the FAU Foundation Board.

Eric Shaw, a member of the steering committee which is a group that manages organization projects, questioned the documentation court cases involving the GEO Group as the defendant in human rights violations, such as sexual misconduct and mistreatment of detainees in GEO Group operated facilities, that he has seen being passed around on campus by faculty and students.

These documents came from outsides sources, such as the United States Department of Justice, the executive branch department responsible for the administration of law and justice, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which helps employers and employees promote injury-free work environments.

“All the sheets [of paper] that get passed around that claim to be documentation, all they are is allegations,” Shaw said. Shaw went on to say that the documentation being passed around campus may not be real cases, and that they cover issues most of the faculty are unfamiliar with.

GEO Group has been the defendant in over 100 lawsuits in the past seven years.

“The only one that I have seen that really represents something substantiated is the [Walnut] Grove issue, and GEO says they didn’t control it long enough,” Shaw said.

The U.S. Department of Justice investigated GEO Group’s Walnut Grove facility. The staff had been charged with illegal drug distribution and sexual misconduct with juvenile inmates, according the UP’s previous report. GEO Group controlled the Walnut Grove facility for two years. The U.S. Department of Justice found that no improvements had been made and accused the GEO Group of “deliberate indifference,” according to lawsuits filed against the prison company.

Commotion immediately filled the room following Shaw’s statement. Meredith Mountford, senate member and professor of educational leadership, rose from the front row and tried handing Shaw a pamphlet compiled by faculty members including information on the GEO Group’s lawsuits and allegations.

“That’s an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper, that is not documentation,” Shaw said refusing to take the pamphlet.

Mountford responded, “This is, this is. This is done by faculty at the — ” until she was cut off.

“Out of order,” McDaniel said shouted. Shaw continued speaking.

Michelle Hawkins, senate member of the School of Social Work, spoke of her concern for the United States’ justice system and her desire to improve it.

“If you look at social change in the history of the world, most of it has come from within. And by our walking away, we are walking away from making change,” she said.

Rose Cadence, director of the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education, responded to Hawkins.

Cadence compared the situation to “professors in Communist countries who did not stand up for the human rights of their colleagues and for other people in their society who were not just abused, but killed en masse.” She said we are sinking down to the same level by having this discussion.

John Valentine, management member, provided a different perspective, questioning whether or not the faculty voice will be heard.

“I don’t really care if the stadium’s named GEO Stadium, or Red Sox Stadium, or Redneck Stadium,” he said. “In response to the question, ‘Does faculty opinion taking a stance mean anything, does it change anything?’ I would just ask does changing the public, the national public, affect it?”

George Zoley, the CEO of GEO Group, was on the presidential search committee for Saunders in 2010 and is a member of the FAU Foundation Board of Directors. The appearance of the relationship between FAU and GEO Group is the concern, according to Lenz.

When the UP asked Lisa Metcalf, director of Media Relations, for statements from Saunders and McDaniel, Metcalf wrote in an email, “At this time, we are not interested in participating.”

During the meeting, senate member Bill Bosshardt explained that he was unable to find a “statement of values or ethics” on the website for the FAU Foundation, FAU’s organization that accepts donations.

“There didn’t seem to be any rules of when to take money and when not to take money.”

The resolution passed with a 25 to 9 vote after two hours of discussion and is set to be given to Saunders.

[divider type=””]
[title type=”h4″]Voices of FAU faculty[/title]

At the Faculty Senate meeting, members and non-Senate members argued their case on whether or not the resolution should pass. Faculty Senate members were given an unlimited amount of time to speak, while non-Senate members were given a time span of 90 seconds to make their arguments. Here are some of the arguments made by Faculty Senate members and non-Senate members who attended the meeting.

For the resolution:

Doug McGetchin, director of peace studies, Faculty Senate member

“Regardless of that whole issue of whether GEO group is doing illegal practices or not, the prison industry in itself is extremely violent, and it is an industry that targets our students — immigrants, minorities, people that we want to reach out to. Students I’ve talked to have been extremely concerned about this. Faculty I’ve talked to have also been concerned about this. Every time people see a football game, they’re going to associate FAU with GEO [Group]. What’s going to happen in the future, if other allegations come out? Do we as a university community want to associate with this company?”

Meredith Mountford, educational leadership department, Faculty Senate member

“One of my biggest issues is a focus on social justice with my students, in ethics and policy, and to teach and look out the window and see GEO on the stadium across the street … I have a big problem, this makes a hypocrite out of me as a faculty member, and opposes what it is I try to instill in our students at FAU.”

Against the resolution:

Eric Shaw, school of business, Faculty Senate member

“GEO gives to a number of charities, and it’s not just the six million they’ve given us — they’ve given to the [American Heart Association], the [American Cancer Society], you name it. They hire our graduates. The CEO is a former chairman of the [Board of] Trustees … In any case, I’m not in favor of private prisons, I’m not in favor of prisons in general, but that’s not the issue. The six million dollars is going to pay for the stadium, and if we don’t have the six million dollars, we’re going to have to take money out of the scholarship funds.”

Jeff Galen, English department, non-Senate member

“This corporation is really a strong corporation, a model corporation. It just happens to run prisons which are uniformly understood to be in violation of human rights. It’s not the corporation that is the problem, it’s what the corporation is doing, because that’s how it makes its money … I think [Faculty Senate] should be very careful about whatever claims they want to make about this organization. I also think, honestly, while there are clearly good concerns represented by this room, that there is a bit of a misjudgment of what this corporation has to offer.”

[divider type=””]
[title type=”h4″]FAU Faculty Resolution[/title]

The following is a resolution that faculty petitioned to have included on the University Faculty Senate action agenda for the March 22nd, 2013 meeting.

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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