Education Secretary Betsy DeVos As 2017 Commencement Keynote Speaker At Bethune Cookman University
Creates Dissension With NAACP, Alumni, Students
BY LOUIS C. WARD
DAYTONA BEACH - Bethune Cookman University, a historically Black College, recently invited Betsy DeVos, Secretary, United States Department of Education, a staunch supporter of private and charter school education to be the keynote speaker at its 2017 Commencement Exercises, and to also receive an honorary degree.
NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi NWeze, some BCU alumni, students and supporters are very upset about Secretary DeVos being chosen as keynote speaker at an historic Black college mainly because of her policy to promote and fund charter schools over public schools.
Dr. Edison Jackson, President of Bethune Cookman University, stated that he was operating in the same vein as Dr. Bethune when she invited individuals who represented diverse political and social views to visit and support her institution.
“I have chosen to provide our students with an opportunity to hear from someone with whom they may disagree, but someone who has the ability to potentially influence their future,” Dr. Jackson revealed.
“Many of my colleague presidents have struggled with these issues over the past few months as the political and racial chasms in our county have deepened. Some have responded by rescinding invitations to potentially controversial speakers.”
Most likely, revoking the invitation is not going to happen. Because Dr. Jackson said, “I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.
“If our students are robbed of the opportunity to experience and interact with views that may be different from their own, then they will be tremendously less equipped for the demands of democratic citizenship,” Dr. Jackson emphasized.
Secretary DeVos should be denied to speak at an historic Black university “based on her horrible public education record impacting Blacks and minorities in Florida and around the country,” President Nweze emphasized.
Regarding bestowing an honorary degree to Secretary DeVos, it “would be a slap in the face to minorities, women, and all communities of color,” remarked President Nweze. “What makes the BCU approach unusual is their plan to honor a person who has been on the job for less than 100 days.”
“This is appalling to hear that the new Secretary of Education is invited to speak at BCU, especially because of her views on Black colleges and how to fund them,” said Carolyn Samuel, a retired educator and BCU graduate and alumnae. “The students may not have had a choice about the speaker for their graduation.”
“No one is saying that this president has not done some wonderful things. But for this situation – bad choice. I was hoping that it was fake news,” BCU graduate Martha Mitchell stated. “We are not regressing. Our present president seems to have his hands in shackles. I’d like to know if it was a decision by the chairman of BCU Trustee Board.”
Concluding, Dr. Jackson stated, “It is never my desire, and it should never be the desire of any educator to stunt students’ intellectual, moral, social, and cultural development by decreasing opportunities that would stretch them beyond their comfort zones.
“Commencement means a new start, said BCU Alumnae Mitchell. “I would hate for these graduates to begin a new phase with her as a speaker.”