FAU Investigates Student Protestors. Will the School Conduct Itself Fairly? UPDATED

Categories: Broward News
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Administrators at Florida Atlantic University didn't have the gumption to stand up to a propaganda assault from the Christian right and investigate communications instructor Deandre Poole's report of threats from a disgruntled student. They chose instead to hang Poole out to dry in the idiot wind. Academic freedom? Not at FugddedAboudit University.

See also:
- FAU Opens Investigation on Student Hit by President's Car

But when it comes to the StopOwlcatraz! students who rescued the school from its calamitous decision to sell naming rights to its football stadium to the world's largest private prison operator, the notorious GEO Group, FAU officials are suddenly all Florida Five-O. Book'em, Danno.
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The flash point of the investigation -- several investigations, actually, as nicely reported yesterday by the school's University Press -- is the March 22 incident at the school's Jupiter campus in which school prez Mary Jane Saunders struck and (slightly) injured student Britni Hiatt with her 2010 silver Lexus as the prez was pulling out of a school parking lot. The students had gathered there to protest the GEO deal.

In her interview with UP, Saunders wasn't waiting for the results of the investigation, saying students "got caught up in the excitement of the moment. And did things that were not, actually, legal." (In UP video of the interview the robotic prez, surely well-primed by her handlers, said it twice.)

We're all in favor of a full airing of the affair of Saunders's silver Lexus. And we hope that, among other things, it will clear up the question of the president's conduct that day. According to statements by protestors -- uncontroverted by police incident reports -- Saunders sped away from the scene of the accident.

We can't help but wonder what's driving the investigation. The school has much better things to do. Like figuring out ways to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves in the Poole affair. Or clearing up the public relations mess left by the GEO fiasco. Instead, they're launching a campaign that will only give the latter disaster more air time. (Ready for your closeup, Ms. Saunders?)

In July 2008, three years before the stadium opened, FAU General Counsel David Kian -- who coordinated the project -- told the Sun-Sentinel the school was relying on three funding sources, naming rights high among them. He expressed hope money from that would be enough to spare the school from also selling development rights for dormitories. "We have to be creative and keep open all our options," he told the paper.

That worked out well.

The school's powerful Board of Trustees must have their panties in a bunch over the soured deal with JailsRUs, especially as GEO CEO George Zoley has burned many a proverbial stogie in the executive suite with that crew, Zoley being a longtime board member and twice its chair. 

Given that the students under investigation undid plans the university labored so long and mightily to bring to fruition, can the school conduct the probe dispassionately? FAU has set itself another high hurdle to clear.

UPDATE. 2:45 p.m.
The ACLU of Florida spoke out on the investigation this afternoon, as follows:
"The University shouldn't be intimidating these students, it should be thanking them for sparing the university from embarrassment," stated Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "The lesson that the University seems to be sending students is, 'think twice before filing a complaint against a high-level university official.' We think the lesson they should be sending is 'thank you." Their tireless use of their First Amendment rights has protected the university from an embarrassing entanglement with a human rights violator.'"

The ACLU of Florida, which had previously urged President Saunders to reject the GEO Group's effort to whitewash its public image through the stadium naming deal and had supported the efforts of students and faculty members to use their First Amendment rights to protest the planned deal, is now working with the students who are being subjected to possible disciplinary action.

"The timing of the investigations and the fact that they are being undertaken against those who gave sworn statements about President Saunders' actions appears to be initiated by an administration smarting from losing the deal that the students were protesting," stated ACLU of Florida staff attorney Julie Ebenstein, who served as advisor to some of the students during today's investigative conferences. "In the past few weeks, FAU's executive leadership has already come under self-inflicted scrutiny. We hope they have the wisdom to steer clear this time, respect that their students' exercise of their freedom of speech successfully muted a prison-for-profit company's PR campaign, and let the students get back to their studies."
A full copy of the statement is available here.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.




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