In Open Letters, FAU Faculty and Father of Hurt Student Ask President Saunders to Apologize
Ya gotta hate Mondays. Especially if you're FAU President Mary Jane Saunders and you come in and open your email and find two open letters "to the FAU community" raking the school over the coals for its handling of two recent scandals.
One letter came from John Hiatt, of Wellington, whose daughter was among the students involved in protests that shamed the school into 86ing the sale to global private prison operator GEO Group of naming rights to the school's stadium. The other came from FAU faculty, and like Hiatt's addressed the school's response to the protests, as well as its decision to throw communications instructor Deandre Poole to the Christian Right wolves rather than defend the principle of academic freedom.
Hiatt's letter demands an apology from Saunders for striking his daughter, Britni Hiatt, with the president's 2010 silver Lexus rather than stop to talk with her and other student protestors on the school's Jupiter campus last month.
School officials claim Saunders was "surrounded" by student protestors and was "physically intimidated, threatened and confined." Student witnesses' statements and photo evidence are, to say the least, equivocal, and at worst, show Saunders recklessly fleeing the scene.
The faculty letter seconds Hiatt's motions about the Jupiter protest and contrasts the school's actions in that affair with its treatment of Dr. Poole. According to the faculty Poole was directly threatened by a student who
"pounded his fist into the palm of his hand as he expressed distaste for a classroom exercise. Although this student was initially suspended for his aggression, you later issued a video apology and retracted the suspension. The students who carried out a non-violent protest were rebuked and the student who physical threatened an instructor is pardoned."
The faculty letter asks the administration to open an investigation of the Jupiter incident and to send a letter of reprimand to the student who allegedly threatened Dr. Poole.
Here's the full texts of both letters, Hiatt's first:
President Saunders Owes Us An Apology
Dear Florida Atlantic University Faculty,
On Friday, March 22nd, my daughter, Britni Hiatt, was struck by a vehicle driven by President Saunders during a student demonstration on the FAU Jupiter campus about the GEO Group stadium-naming rights deal. She did not stop to see if she was OK but instead sped down the wrong way on a one-way street.
On Sunday, March 24th, Chairman Barbar released a statement demanding that the students apologize to President Saunders for the events of March 22nd.
As Britni's father and a concerned parent, I called President Saunders' office on Monday, March 25th, requesting to speak with her.
On Wednesday, March 27, Chief of FAU Police Charles Lowe called me to discuss my request to speak with President Saunders. I reiterated that I wished to speak with President Saunders and declined to speak further with Chief Lowe, and he said he would relay the message to President Saunders.
On Thursday, March 28th, Dr. Charles Brown, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, called me, also offering to speak about the hit-and-run. I repeated again that, although Dr. Brown may have been present that day, he was not driving the vehicle and therefore I declined to speak with him regarding the incident. He, too, said he would relay the message.
On April 2, the day after the FAU/GEO Group deal was called off, I called President Saunders' office, again wishing to speak with her regarding the incident, and I left a message. Later that day she gave an on-camera interview to Dylan Bouscher from the University Press, where she agreed with Chairman Barbar that students from the March 22nd demonstration, including Britni, owed her an apology and that they were doing "things that were not, actually, legal."
On April 3rd, Britni and the six students who gave sworn witness statements about her being struck by President Saunders' vehicle received an email from Dr. Corey King, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, saying that they were being investigated for possible student code of conduct violations. On Tuesday, April 9th, they received letters stating that they, in fact, had not violated the student code of conduct and that no further disciplinary proceedings would be initiated.
It has now been nearly three weeks since I first attempted contacting President Saunders about the March 22 incident, and I have not spoken with her once.
Since this incident, what I have witnessed is nothing short of a corporate coverup led by President Saunders.
The facts are clear. President Saunders has exercised extremely poor judgement throughout this entire ordeal. She should be ashamed of her actions as this, in my opinion, is conduct less than becoming of an executive and university head.
Britni and her fellow student demonstrators, at no time, presented a threat to anyone's security, much less that of President Saunders. They carried harmless paper poster-boards and the only single act of aggression was the striking of my daughter with a vehicle driven by President Saunders.
As a consequence of all this, my daughter Britni was hurt, physically and emotionally, and President Saunders has not been accountable or even accessible for her actions.
Britni and her fellow student demonstrators should be applauded for their will to stand for what they believe in. This very action is what has shaped this nation into what it is today.
I am extremely disappointed in how President Saunders, Chairman Barbar and the FAU Police have handled this entire ordeal.
It is not President Saunders who is owed an apology but rather my daughter Britni, her fellow student demonstrators and their parents, as well as the entire FAU community for President Saunders' reckless behavior, her twisting of truths and the audacity to blame others for her poor judgment.
John S. Hiatt