FAU closed its doors on Owlcatraz on April 1.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on renaming the stadium after the GEO Group — a private prison company — after they agreed to donate $6 million over the course of 12 years. The company has been the defendant in over a hundred lawsuits involving human rights violation in the past seven years, including sexual mistreatment of inmates and illegal drug smuggling in their detention facilities.
The deal sparked controversy as several students, faculty, and community members outwardly opposed having the company’s name on the stadium.
After six weeks of media scrutiny, student protests, and a faculty consensus that the GEO Group deal to rename the stadium should not hold up, the GEO Group withdrew from the agreement to rename the stadium.
On April 1, it was announced in an FAU press release that the deal to rename the stadium was off. The CEO of the GEO Group George Zoley, a former BOT member and FAU alumnus, pulled out of the deal citing it as a “distraction” to both parties, according to the press release.
“We employ many FAU graduates and Boca Raton community members. We take pride in running a well-respected company and are proud of our long-term support of the University,” Zoley said in the press release.
Earlier that day, a group of students from the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition — an organization of students aimed at ending FAU’s affiliation with the GEO Group — held a parade pretending that the GEO deal was off in celebration of April Fools’ day.
“I honestly didn’t believe it at first,” Arely Baugh, founding member of the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition, said. “I was skeptical at first, but I’m just grateful that it finally happened.”
Some faculty members also opposed the deal. The Faculty Senate came to a consensus to oppose the naming agreement in a resolution on March 22 stating that the GEO Group does not “align with the missions of the university,” according to the resolution.
Student Body President Robert Huffman, Student Body Vice President April Turner, Boca House Speaker Jaclyn Broudy, and Boca Raton Treasurer Ricky Lejuez signed a letter in support of the deal made with GEO on March 29.
According to Saunders, she is disappointed that the deal did not happen.
“We’d like always to have good donors and keep our money,” Saunders said.
The university will look for new sponsors to give naming rights of the stadium, according to Saunders. FAU has a contract with Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the company that runs the BB&T Center. SSE will look for a naming sponsor for the stadium and other FAU athletic venues, according to Saunders.
“Ultimately, you’re hopeful that you can help students go to school and have scholarships and support our athletics program,” Saunders said.
From dealmakers to deal breakers
Here is a timeline of events that FAU and GEO Group endured leading to the withdrawal of GEO Group’s donation for the naming rights of the football stadium:
FAU announces a deal with GEO Group, a for-profit prison company; a $6 million donation in return for the naming rights of the football stadium. The donation would be paid in $500,000 installments over 12 years. The Board of Trustees, FAU’s 13-member board that makes decisions on matters concerning the university, voted unanimously in favour of accepting the donation.
Students from organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine, Lambda United, FAU Feminists, and Occupy FAU come together using Facebook to form the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition, a group aimed at ending the deal with the GEO Group.
The GEO Group Wikipedia page is edited removing the “controversies” section under a username “Abraham Cohen,” also the name of the company’s corporate relations manager. The company’s social media team uses a common login under his name, according to Cohen. The section has since been restored by Wikipedia.
FAU and GEO Group are featured in a segment on the Colbert Report. Follow the QR code to watch the video. (made a QR code to the video, added this text.)
Over 30 students from the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition staged a sit-in in President Mary Jane Saunders’ office. Saunders agreed to hold a meeting in the stadium’s recruiting room on March 1 for students to ask questions about the deal.
Saunders held a Q&A session with about 250 attendees. Students asked questions to Saunders through a moderator. Saunders stated that it’s a done deal with GEO Group.
Stop Owlcatraz Coalition members Britni Hiatt and Arley Baugh attend a BOT meeting at Harbor Branch campus to voice the alleged human rights violations committed at facilities owned by GEO Group.
Stop Owlcatraz Coalition founding member Hiatt was allegedly clipped by Saunders’ car as students surrounded it during a protest on the Jupiter campus, according to the police report filed.
FAU Faculty Senate, a body of tenured-track professors that govern FAU’s education body, passed a resolution voting 25 to 9 opposing the renaming of the stadium.
GEO Group Vice President of Corporate Relations and former Student Government President Pablo Paez spoke in a Boca House of Representatives meeting, promoting the GEO Group.
Student Body President Robert Huffman, Student Body Vice President April Turner, Boca House Speaker Jaclyn Broudy, and Boca Raton Treasurer sign a letter in support of the deal made with the GEO Group. They distribute the letter to the Boca House members.
The due date of the first of 12 $500,000 payments of the $6 million donation from GEO Group according to the gift agreement.
The Stop Owlcatraz Coalition staged a protest at noon where they pretended the deal between FAU and GEO group was cancelled in celebration of April Fools Day.
FAU released a press statement at 6:30 p.m. stating that the donation agreement was withdrawn by GEO Group, relinquishing the renaming rights to the stadium.