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News Clips 04/17/2013
FAU trustees criticize president's handling of incidents
Source: Sun Sentinel, 04/16/13
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By Scott Travis
Florida Atlantic University's poor handling of recent events has threatened campus safety, hurt the school's image and resulted in the loss of a $6 million gift, members of the Board of Trustees said on Tuesday.
The events include a professor's controversial comments on the Sandy Hook massacre, a "step on Jesus" class assignment and a botched stadium-naming deal with a prison group. Trustee Bob Stilley said they should have been small local stories, but the administration failed to keep them from becoming international news.
"I don't want hear any more people say they think the lunatics have taken over the asylum," trustee Jeffrey Feingold told President Mary Jane Saunders. "You're responsible to straighten out this mess."
University employees have received many threatening emails and messages related to the incidents. Even Saunders has used bodyguards and escorts due to concerns about her own safety. Deandre Poole, the instructor in the Jesus incident, is on paid leave because FAU couldn't guarantee his safety.
"What concerns me is we have systemic events, repetitive issues that happen on a small level, and they keep getting bigger and bigger," Stilley said. "That tells me something is not right at the university."
No one suggested Saunders' job was in jeopardy. She has a five-year contract with FAU that expires in 2015. Saunders said after the meeting she wasn't concerned about her job.
"I have great support from the Board of Trustees," she said. "I'm very comfortable, thank you."
In January, James Tracy, an associate communications professor, questioned in a blog whether the Sandy Hook tragedy happened as reported. In February, the university faced numerous protests after naming its football stadium after the GEO Group, which withdrew the donation in early April.
In March, a student complained about being assigned to step on a piece of paper with the name Jesus on it.
Trustee Robert Rubin said FAU administrators seemed "more concerned about what outside agitating groups, such as the ACLU, thought about us than our own donors, the majority of students and those of us on the Board of Trustees."
The conversation got particularly tense when Rubin called FAU's support for GEO's $6 million donation "ineffectual and weak." "They had enough of us not having their backs and pulled their donation, and personally I don't blame them," Rubin said.
Board chairman Anthony Barbar interrupted, "Excuse me trustee, I'm not going to let you say that," arguing the university had been supportive of GEO, despite the protests.
Saunders told the trustees she has taken steps to improve communication between the various offices.
"We need to be able to provide an accurate, full and complete rendition of our decision making at the point we can do that," she said. "That does not mean we will rush into decisions. They will always be thoughtful and in the best interest of the university."