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Here’s a mind-boggling one.

Florida Atlantic University, a 29,000-student public university in Boca Raton, will announce today that it has sold the naming rights to its football stadium to a private prison company that until recently ran a youthful offender facility in Mississippi whose “pervasive level of brazen staff sexual misconduct”  was called “among the worst in the nation” by a 2012 Department of Justice investigation.

The Justice Department report on the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility found not only that Walnut Grove management was “deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct,” but also that the facility “often use[d] excessive force as a first response” to disciplinary issues, tolerated active gang membership by facility employees, failed to protect inmates against physical and sexual assault by peers, and was “deliberately indifferent to the suicide risks and serious mental health needs of its youth.”

Walnut Grove was operated at the time by GEO Group, a global private prison operator. Later that year, after a federal judge described Walnut Grove as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,” GEO was removed as manager of the institution. The company would later claim that it had chosen not to renew the contract because Walnut Grove was “financially underperforming.”)

So why would FAU choose to associate itself with a company with such an appalling record? Two reasons.

First, the university has been searching for a corporate sponsor for the stadium without success since it opened two years ago. The $5 million reportedly offered by the GEO Group was apparently impossible to resist.

And second? Well, there’s GEO Group’s CEO, George Zoley. He’s a FAU alum and the former chair of the university’s board of trustees.

Update | It’s official. Thanks to a $6 million donation to the university, the stadium will now be named “GEO Group Stadium.” The university’s press release on the deal calls GEO Group a “fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities around the globe.”

Wednesday Update | The New York Times reports on the story, calling the deal a “a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.” As well, it quotes local private-prison opponent Bob Libal as saying that the GEO Group has recently “poured enormous resources” into attempts “to take over a large portion of the Florida prison system,” characterizing yesterday’s agreement as an extension of that lobbying effort. GEO is, Libal says, “a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” As the Times itself notes, GEO “has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.”

Asked by a Times reporter whether FAU had investigated such incidents before partnering with GEO, university president Saunders said, “we think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.”

The Times also notes that two past FAU student government presidents have gone on to work for GEO Group.

Third Update | It has emerged that the GEO Group owns an immigrant detention center just ten miles from the Florida Atlantic campus that has been the target of criticism based on complaints of inadequate medical care and unjustified incarceration. The Miami Herald reported today that at least one current FAU student is a former detainee at the center.

A student was shot and killed, apparently by police, at a protest against tax hikes and university privatization plans at the Dominican Republic’s largest public university.

William Florian Ramírez, identified in some news reports as Wilfredo or Willy, was a 22-year-old medical student at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, where the protests broke out on Thursday morning. According to witnesses, he was not a participant in the demonstration.

The students were protesting a newly-enacted increase in sales taxes from 16 to 18 percent, as well as plans to privatize the university, which enrolls nearly two hundred thousand students. Activists charge that the nation’s budget deficit is a result of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling Dominican Liberation Party.

Some demonstrators threw rocks at police during the clash, as police fired tear gas and automatic weapons on the crowd. Police say they have video evidence that at least one protester fired a gun at their officers. (Spanish language link.)

One union leader said the fatal shot came from an AK-47, and activists said other students were also injured in the incident. (Spanish-language link. Warning: Graphic images.) A bullet taken from Florian Ramirez’s body has been sent for testing, and police say they are investigating the incident.

Classes at the university have been suspended through Saturday. (Spanish language link.)

Most observers of the American university are intimately familiar with the long-term decline and recent degradation of public higher education in California (if you need a refresher, check out Aaron Bady and Mike Konczal’s excellent overview in the new Dissent magazine). Unless you’re inside CA, however, you may have missed word of the time bomb that’s set to explode there in just eleven days.

California’s government is hobbled by its ballot proposition process, a seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time system by which any state law or constitutional amendment may be put to a statewide popular vote. Though the idea has an undeniable good-government appeal, in practice it rewards Californians with deep pockets and a knack for writing misleading referendum questions — as when a 1964 initiative sponsored by movie theater owners actually banned cable television in the state.

In the last forty years various initiatives have mandated spending on certain budget lines while placing various limits on the state legislature’s ability to raise revenue, squeezing funding for non-mandatory spending and exacerbating the state’s already profound budget problems. This quagmire is one, though certainly not the only, contributing factor behind the defunding of public higher education in the state.

Enter Proposition 30.

Proposition 30 is an attempt to address the state’s education funding gap through two temporary tax increases — a four-year, 0.25% hike in sales taxes and a seven-year bump in income taxes for Californians with annual incomes above $250,000. Revenues raised by the new taxes would be dedicated to public education.

The current California state budget assumes passage of Proposition 30, with various cuts built in should the proposition fail. Though most of the cuts would fall on K-12 education, another $838 million would be shared by the the state’s public colleges and universities, which have already seen $2.5 billion in cuts — and a series of staggeringly high tuition increases — in the last four years.

What does this mean in practice? At the University of California it would mean a 20% tuition hike, in a system where tuition already tops $12,000 a year. At Cal State it would likely mean a 5% tuition hike, the cancellation of a planned tuition rebate, and a reduction of enrollment by some twenty thousand students. Community colleges, which have already turned away half a million students over the last three years, would slash enrollment by another 180,000.

So how is Proposition 30 doing? Not well at all. Support currently stands at 46%, down from 55% a month ago. Voters are skeptical of state government and confused by another similar proposition (if both pass, the one that gets the most votes will go into effect, but significant numbers of voters are planning to vote only for the one they prefer). Additionally, the Los Angeles Times yesterday described Governor Jerry Brown’s campaigning on behalf of Prop 30 so far as “lackluster.”

And if you want to know more about how the state got into this mess, take a look at yesterday’s public statement from UC President Mark Yudof on Proposition 30. “Public higher education in California has been battered by declining State support,” he wrote, and the UC Regents have predicted that without Prop 30, “the ability of the University of California to ensure the high-quality education that Californians have come to expect will be jeopardized.” In that light, he continued, he wanted to make it absolutely “clear that it is neither my official place, nor my personal predilection, to suggest how others should vote.”

Bold words, strong words, from the head of the greatest public higher education system the world has ever known:

“It is neither my official place, nor my personal predilection, to suggest how others should vote.”

This, as TS Eliot wrote, is the way the world ends.

Three weeks ago for-profit college giant Kaplan announced it was closing thirteen campuses. Yesterday the Apollo Group, owner of Phoenix University, announced even larger cuts.

With Phoenix enrollment falling nearly 14% in the latest quarter, the company plans to close 115 of its 227 locations throughout the country.

Although the “campuses” facing closure are mostly among Phoenix’s smaller locations, the retrenchment reflects a dramatic reversal for Apollo and the industry as a whole. Apollo profits are down more than half from a year ago, and Phoenix enrollment has declined by more than 70,000 students from its peak.

As I noted when reporting on the Kaplan closures, for-profit students represent a bit more than a tenth of the students enrolled in American higher ed institutions, but they account for a quarter of student-loan borrowers and half of student loan defaults. Because the vast majority of for-profit college revenue comes government-backed student loans, these defaults are a significant drain on taxpayer money.

The government has been slow to regulate for-profit colleges as the scope of their malfeasance has become clear, but the regulatory pace has been picking up in recent months. At least as important, students are wising up about for-profits’ defects, and abandoning the schools in droves.

That’s good news, for them and for the rest of us.

Last weekend some forty Wesleyan students entered a closed meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees, looking to give input on a matter of university governance. The students were advocates of need-blind admissions, a policy under which students are accepted for admission without consideration of their ability to pay. (Admissions have traditionally been need-blind at Wesleyan, but at the start of the summer, after many students had left campus, the trustees voted to scrap that policy for the class of 2017.)

This wasn’t a long occupation — it lasted only about fifteen minutes before students left voluntarily. It wasn’t particularly aggressive — video of the incident shows a conspicuously quiet, and respectful, discussion. And it was far from unprecedented — on the video, one trustee is seen declaring that “students barging in [to trustee meetings] is a long and time-honored tradition at Wesleyan.”

But now at least five of the students who participated in the action are being brought up on campus judicial charges. As the campus online newspaper Wesleying notes, the five stand accused of “disruption” and “failure to comply.” According to the campus student handbook, it looks like punishment for these two violations could be anything from a warning to expulsion.

I watched the video, and I gotta say — that’s some seriously non-disruptive disruption, and some seriously compliant non-compliance. Shame on Wesleyan for making it into a judicial issue.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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