These Owls give a hoot.
Amidst the announcement a month ago of a $6 million, 12-year naming rights deal with the GEO Group for its football stadium, Florida Atlantic University — home of the Owls — has had to deal with an internal backlash from its students, faculty and community members. At a time when pomp should rule following such an announcement, it was instead many questioning the circumstances of why the university would close a deal with the GEO Group, a business which operates private prisons in various countries around the world.
“What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO’s goodwill to financially assist the university’s athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations.”
Fast forward one month and hours after the latest student protest and the Boca Raton-based company announced it was withdrawing from the deal. The final straw came on April 1 (but no fooling) when more than 60 civil rights, immigrant, student and faith organizations sent a letter to University President Mary Jane Saunders and the school’s board of trustees. In it, the groups once again decried the decision to have GEO Group as the university’s naming rights partner. Later the same evening, an announcement went out to the media saying that the $6 million gift was being withdrawn.
GEO Group CEO George Zoley, an alumnus of the school and former member and chair of the FAU Board of Trustees said, “What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO’s goodwill to financially assist the university’s athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations.”
It had only been a few weeks earlier that FAU Vice President of Community Engagement Jennifer O’Flannery Anderson and Director of Athletics Pat Chun addressed the matter in a message sent on behalf of their respective departments that read: “FAU marked another significant milestone in its history on Tuesday, Feb. 19, as we announced that our football stadium will be named GEO Group Stadium in recognition of a $6 million philanthropic gift to the University. The Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve the gift and the new stadium name.”
It turns out that as naming rights deals go, this one, much like the statuesque owl itself, was enough to turn heads.