FAU GEO Group protest: Group gathers to protest FAU stadium naming rights

President Saunders agrees to address students

BOCA RATON, Fla. - BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Protesters disappointed that Florida Atlantic University partnered with the GEO Group for naming rights of the university's football stadium gathered Monday morning at the school.

FAU's board of trustees approved a deal that involves the school receiving $6 million over the next twelve years.

The for-profit prison company is based in Boca Raton, and is run by an FAU graduate. It has locations in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.

According to FAU, this is the largest one-time gift the university's athletics program has ever received.

Protesters say they're against the deal because of the prison group's history with abuse investigations.

About 30 students were so intent on speaking with University President Mary Jane Saunders about it, they staged a sit-in just outside her office. Saunders responded by agreeing to speak with students on Friday at the stadium.

When students second-guessed whether Saunders would keep her word, Kevin Lanning a professor and assistant to the president backed her up.

"One of the students said 'she'll never meet with us', and I said that she would and I was willing to bet my job on it, that I would resign if she did not," says Lanning.

Students appreciated that

"I think it was a good move. It shows a faculty member was standing up for the students. President Saunders and FAU should be addressing that issue," says Sophomore Regina Kaza.

According to a 2011 article by NPR, the GEO Group was under investigation by the Department of Justice for keeping juvenile inmates in "barbaric and unconstitutional conditions."

"The issue isn't about what the stadium is named. It's about the human rights abuses inherent in the prison system and what the university is supporting by engaging in a financial transaction with this company," said protester Anole Halper.

"It's really something that I think affects the entire country as kind of a corporate sponsorship that nobody would want to be associated with. And I think the students are here today because they don't want to be part of this national embarrassment," said ACLU attorney Julie Ebenstein.

The school had been trying to secure naming rights for the stadium for the past two years. 

The university responded   (bilty link: http://bit.ly/WmDWLV) in part by saying, "Higher education is faced with many fiscal challenges, and philanthropic assistance to universities has become vital to maintaining the programs and services offered to students."

FAU said it is grateful for the gift and, "proud to be Owls and hope to see everyone at our first home football game as members of Conference USA on Saturday, Sept. 21."

FAU students also sat outside the office of school president Mary Jane Saunders as part of the protest. According to the University Press, Saunders will hold a question and answer session  Friday at noon.

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