Bethune-Cookman University students greeted U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with boos and turned backs at the HBCU’s 2017 commencement. This response to her speech came after students, faculty and alumni voiced strong opposition to her invitation to address the graduating class.
Many are asking why the University of Baltimore’s president, Kurt L. Schmoke, extended a fall commencement invitation to the controversial education secretary.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Schmoke, the city’s former mayor, plans to move forward with his invitation despite opposition from dozens of students, who staged a walkout on Monday and organized a rally.
Earlier this year, DeVos, an unwavering school choice advocate, sparked outrage when she called HBCUs “pioneers of school choice.” She was apparently ignorant to the historic fact the Jim Crow laws barred African Americans from attending traditionally White institutions.
The Florida NAACP called the invitation to Bethune-Cookman a “slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color,” in a statement, adding that she has “a horrible public education record” that harms the Black community.
Schmoke, however, welcomes the opportunity for his students to hear what DeVos has to say.
He told The Chronicle that he extended an invitation to DeVos when she was going through the U.S. Senate confirmation process, but he kept silent about her acceptance for months. The need to manage the logistics of her visit in December prompted him to make the announcement now.
The university’s president said he welcomes the discussions that news of the invitation has sparked, and he’s unconcerned about what happened at Bethune-Cookman.
“What concerned me more was looking around the country and seeing places where speakers were disinvited because some their views were not acceptable to some on campus and thus invitations were rescinded,” he stated.
He hopes that his decision informs the university’s students that “they’re graduating into a world in which not everyone agrees with, or has the same point of view on, every public policy issue that is before us.”
In the interview, Schmoke denied that the timing of his announcement and Julian Schmoke‘s appointment as enforcement chief of the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid Office is anything more than a coincidence. By the way, Julian Schmoke is his first-cousin.