FAU Students and faculty speak up to Saunders about recent controversies at Faculty Senate meeting

Sarah Pruzansky

Faculty Senate President William McDaniel speaks to faculty about the university's curriculum, elections, and introduces the meeting's speakers. Photo by Emilie Becker.
Faculty Senate President William McDaniel speaks to faculty about the university’s curriculum, elections, and introduces the meeting’s speakers. Photo by Emilie Becker.

UPDATE: This story has been updated since original publication to correct the names of Arely Baugh and Britni Hiatt.

FAU President Mary Jane Saunders steps up to the podium in front of a room filled with over 70 faculty members and students. She looks out into the audience and begins speaking about the recent downfall and controversies surrounding the university.

“I really hope that what we can do is pull together for this institution,” Saunders said at the Faculty Senate meeting.

The Faculty Senate — a body of faculty members concerned with the university’s education policy — held their monthly meeting on April 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 201 of the College of Nursing building.

They gathered to discuss elections for the new Faculty Senate President and listen to Provost Brenda Claiborne and Saunders speak about the university’s recent controversies.

As Saunders made her speech about the positive events that have occurred at the university recently such as student employment and STEM — a program for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — degree growth, faculty members and students voiced concerned over the negative events that have caused media uproar about the university, such as the renaming of the stadium after the GEO Group — a private prison company — and the recent “Jesus stomping” incident.

“My main concern is this university’s charged, amongst other things, with teaching students ethical behavior, respect for the rule of law, and respect for human rights,” Simon Glynn, a philosophy professor, said. “It’s also charged with teaching people critical reflective thinking and doing some research.”

At the end of Saunders’ speech at the meeting, faculty members asked her questions regarding the support for academic freedom.

One faculty member said to Saunders at the meeting, “I think the problem with faculty is you speak with us more, but there’s no actual change.”

After a question to Saunders regarding the stadium naming deal and the damage to the school’s reputation, Saunders told the faculty that FAU was accepting a $500,000 donation from the GEO Foundation.

Faculty members voiced concern about accepting a donation from the GEO Foundation because of the GEO Group’s legal history and the negative attention FAU received after the stadium deal.

“If indeed we have completely disassociated ourselves from GEO, then nobody can be happier than I,” Glynn said. “If indeed it turns out we haven’t, the question would be why are we taking this money?”

Narina Karides, a sociology professor, voiced concern over student and faculty voices not being heard in the decision-making process. She is also concerned that the association with the GEO Group will affect FAU research grants.

Aside from her concerns, Karides hopes that after the recent events everything between Saunders, faculty, and students will be mended.

Saunders, however, brought up the difficulty to internally communicate with the faculty.

President Mary Jane Saunders listens to speakers as she awaits her turn to speak in front of the Faculty Senate. Photo by Emilie Becker.
President Mary Jane Saunders listens to speakers as she awaits her turn to speak in front of the Faculty Senate. Photo by Emilie Becker.

“We want participation of all the faculty in this, but faculty have to be willing to participate,” Saunders said at the meeting.

“I have to say my colleagues feel like there are bridges to be built,” Karides said. “I’m not completely convinced, some of the rhetoric we heard today from President Saunders and the provost sounded like they wanted to build bridges. Being optimistic, that would be great. I guess the proof is in the plate.”

At the end of the meeting, as Saunders began to make her exit, Arely Baugh, a senior psychology and women’s studies major and member of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition — a group of students that worked to protest against the stadium naming deal with GEO — yelled out to Saunders from the back of the room.

“I’m tired of being labeled as a violent person,” Baugh yelled. “I never threatened you, President Saunders.”

On March 22, Baugh and the “Jupiter 7” protesters were protesting in a parking lot on the Jupiter campus. During this protest the students surrounded Saunders’ car. Britni Hiatt, a senior majoring in women’s studies, was allegedly clipped by the side mirror of Saunders’ car as she drove out of the parking lot.

At the meeting, one of the faculty members voiced their concern to Saunders saying, “Please stop characterizing our students as violent.”

To this Saunders said about the Jupiter incident, “I encourage you to read the police report. I refuse to be libeled. I refuse to be threatened.”

The investigation of the incident was closed on April 15. According to witness reports from three officers, Saunders left the scene after clipping Hiatt with her car. The investigation concluded that Hiatt violated two Florida statutes, but according to Officer Edward Delancy, one of the officers who filed a witness statement, he did not believe there was enough evidence to pursue charges.

Baugh said she was tired of being labeled a violent person.

“I just felt my person being pushed to the ground by her words saying that there was nothing to be investigated, the report has been filed,” Baugh said. “She doesn’t want to give any more information because the facts have been obscured by the administration and herself.”

Saunders did not respond to Baugh as she yelled and the Faculty Senate President William McDaniel said there will be no yelling.

Baugh began to cry, and Saunders left the room.

“I’m used to it,” Baugh said. “I respect her. I really do. She’s a person of the school I love, and it’s just disheartening. We’re not gonna attack her. We just want to talk to her. We just want her to one day stay in the room and talk to us like human beings, not step away and dismiss us completely.”