Or, A Lesson For University Bureaucrats Who Build A Stadium On Their Own Mascot’s Habitat, Then Try to Name The Stadium After Private Prison Profiteers, Then Try to Run Down Earth First! Activists With Their Fancy Subsidized Cars…
by Panagioti, EF! Newswire
In 2010, activists from Everglades Earth First! collaborated with the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition to send a message to the then-new president of FAU, Mary Jane Saunders. One letter they sent spelled out the state of affairs in an ongoing controversy of campus expansion onto rare scrub habitat:
“The Burrowing Owl [is] a Species of Special Concern which, as you know, has habitat designated for them on the FAU Boca Raton campus. It is your responsibility as the new president to ensure their survival by stopping further removal of their habitat…. FAU is slated to build a road to the new stadium which will go through current Gopher Tortoise and Burrowing Owl habitat. Too much encroachment has already occurred as the animals are surrounded by concrete, parking lots and multiple story buildings. To put another road which intersects the conservation area would not just reduce their habitat area, but increase their exposure to toxins, pollutants, noise pollution, etc. It would also drastically increase the chances that these beautiful creatures would die at the hands of careless drivers.”
Saunders response? Unsurprisingly, nothing. The Boca Chamber of Commerce doesn’t named your school “Business of the Year” nor does the South Florida Business Journal included you on its list of the Most Influential Business Women for your commitment to justice and biodiversity. As the original letter indicates, the environmentalists lamented the losses and re-focused energy on FAU’s next assault, collaboration in the Scripps Biotech city slated to destroy Briger forest…
Three years later Saunders became heavily involved in the university’s decision to name this already contentious stadium after Boca Raton-based private prison corporation, GEO Group, an idea that prompted the nickname “Owlcatraz” after FAU’s mascot. When critics of the naming decision highlighted GEO’s tainted human-rights record, Saunders and the FAU trustees refused to reconsider. A new round of activists took on the stadium from another angle, as anti-prison, immigrant solidarity activists and student organizers joined forces to expose the six million dollar deal. Ultimately public outcry won out and the company withdrew.
According to the Miami Herald, article about Saunders’ resignation, “The low point during the stadium debate came when about 20 student protesters confronted Saunders as she headed to her car to leave the university’s Jupiter campus. In a hurry to escape the tense situation, Saunders struck 22-year-old student Britni Hiatt with her right side mirror — and then kept driving. Saunders has said she feared for her safety.”
Or maybe she feared getting a scratch on the 2011 Lexus GS she was driving. But more likely, she might have started panicking sensing her salary slipping through her fingers. According to Saunders’ 2010 five-year employment agreement, she makes $345,000 and is eligible for a $50,000 merit bonus each year. She also gets insurance and retirement benefits and free housing. On a side note, according to the New Times, this graph shows public universities in Florida have had budgets slashed 41.2 percent since just 2008.
Her contract also says the Board of Trustees “shall use its best efforts to cause the FAU Foundation to provide Dr. Saunders with use of a suitable full-size automoblie to be provided, insured, and maintained by the FAU Foundation” and that the vehicle be replaced every three years (so maybe she wasn’t too worried about Britni damaging the car after all).
If you live in the South Florida area, it’s likely you’d know Britni as the badass student organizer who mobilized to kick GEO off the FAU stadium. But if you’re a far flung EF! Journal reader, you’re more likely to recognize her from the editorial she wrote in, Lughnasadh 2012, when she was on the Editorial Collective.
As her editorial last year spelled out, “Struggling for the wild means also resisting what suppresses the wild within us all, and therefore confronting both environmental and social oppressions. Only when we have sovereignty over our own bodies, communities, land and resources of the land can we consider ourselves truly liberated. It’s a long road ahead, and on it we must unify biocentrism and anti-oppression work as vital and complementary movements.”
Today she is manifesting those words. And now under her belt she has the defeat of a multimillion dollar stadium deal and the resignation of an elite university president. Not too fucking shabby there Britni!
On another side note, FAU’s collaboration with Scripps Biotech ain’t looking so hot either these days, as the Briger plan suffers another setback in court.
Interested in other quirky (and less true) stories about burrowing owls getting revenge? Check out Carl Hiaasen’s young adult novel Hoot. Interested in supporting the media of the ecological resistance? Donate of subscribe to the Earth First! Journal.