Presented with an ultimatum, the chief financial officer of St. Thomas University stepped down from her job Tuesday, rather than resigning as a board member of the weapons maker that manufactures the AR-15.
Anita Britt, who joined the Catholic university in January and the board of American Outdoor Brands a month later, offered her resignation on Tuesday afternoon, according to St. Thomas University’s president, the Rev. Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale.
In a statement issued to the Miami Herald, Casale walked back comments he had previously made stating Britt’s role on the board would not conflict with her duties at the private Miami Gardens university.
“After my statement of this past Friday, it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear,” Casale said Tuesday. “Accordingly, yesterday I advised Ms. Britt that she needed to make a choice of either resigning her role on American Outdoor Brands, or her role as CFO at St. Thomas University, but that she could not continue on both. Ms. Britt informed me this afternoon that she has decided to resign her position at St. Thomas University.”
American Outdoor Brands is the parent company of Smith & Wesson, the maker of guns such as the AR-15, the weapon used in the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staffers dead.
American Outdoor Brands pays its board members more than $100,000 per year, according to the company’s public filings. According to a company press release, Britt joined the weapons maker on Feb. 6, eight days before the shooting at Douglas High.
Casale’s new stance came as outside pressure, from faculty members and outside observers, mounted. He had originally defended Britt’s prerogative to serve in both capacities, stating that her role as board member did not go against the university’s Catholic teachings.
“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer and... does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas,” Casale had written in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Herald.
Casale had referenced a statement made by American Outdoor Brands following the Valentine’s Day shooting at the Parkland high school “indicating that the company shares the nation’s grief over the incomprehensible and senseless loss of life at Parkland.”
On Tuesday, he told the Miami Herald that the public reaction to Britt’s holding both positions convinced him to take a stand.
“I came to the conclusion that St. Thomas was being associated with gun violence and that was not an image I thought was good for the university,” he said.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a petition called on Britt to immediately resign her position on the board. The document, which currently has about 300 signatures, was first reported by the Miami New Times.
“Ms. Britt, we know this is not what you signed up for!” the petition reads. “As members of these communities, and the greater public, we urge you to end your association with a company that profits from making and selling the AR-15 style rifles used in numerous school shootings and mass shootings across America!”
Marlen Lebish, a spokesperson for the university, declined to reveal Britt’s salary at St. Thomas, citing school policy. But Darrell Arnold, vice chair of the faculty forum, said he recalled the previous CFO earning “quite a lot more money” than $100,000.
“I don’t know what [Britt] was being paid,” Arnold said. “My understanding was that the previous CFO made quite a lot more money than that.”
The previous CFO at St. Thomas made about $250,000 from the university and related organizations, according to the university’s latest publicly available federal tax form, first reported by Inside Higher Ed.
Neither Britt nor American Outdoor Brands could be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Britt had previously served as the CFO of Perry Ellis International, an apparel and accesories business, where she retired in 2017 after an eight-year tenure.
The St. Thomas faculty forum passed a resolution Monday disagreeing with Casale’s original conclusion that there was no conflict of interest. Arnold said Tuesday he was “pleased to hear the news” that the university listened to calls for action.
He added the university should not have allowed Britt to join the American Outdoor Brands board:
“It never should have happened to begin with.”
Miami Herald staff writer Rob Wile and columnist Fabiola Santiago contributed to this report.