The NAACP, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Florida Education Association and other leftist groups are stirring protest against the president of Bethune-Cookman University for his invitation to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to be the school’s commencement speaker Wednesday.
— ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) May 9, 2017
Some 50,000 signed petitions were delivered Tuesday to the administration of Bethune-Cookman (B-CU), an historically black university, by “students, alumni, and friends” of the school, reports Fox 35.
Leftist groups Change.org, Color of Change, and Dream Defenders are also promoting the petition, using social media hashtags #BackstoBetsy and #StopDeVosBCU.
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) May 4, 2017
Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida chapter of the NAACP, released a statement Monday that also called upon B-CU’s president, Dr. Edison Jackson, and the school’s board chairman, Dr. Joe Petrock, to resign immediately for extending its invitation to DeVos to speak at the Daytona Beach school. Nweze says DeVos should never have been asked to give the commencement address because she “still has not pledged to drastically increase funding for all historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).”
The statement reads:
The NAACP Florida State Conference is calling on Bethune Cookman University President Dr. Edison Jackson and Board Chairman Dr. Joe Petrock to resign effective immediately. Since our initial public outcry last week, multiple allegations have surfaced including faculty intimidation demanding their silence or risk termination and threats to students by potentially withholding earned degrees and fines for freedom of expression. If these allegations are proven, this contrasts the public statements of university administration who opposes suppressing voices by welcoming U.S. Education Secretary DeVos but lends indirect support to these actions against faculty and students.
Nweze’s statement continues that NAACP is working with the T.J. Reddick Bar Association, “who has agreed to represent faculty and students who peacefully protest and are subject to retaliation by the university.”
“We still believe Secretary DeVos should not speak at commencement and that she has no record supporting an honorary degree by Bethune Cookman University,” the statement continues. “With the recent comments of President Trump suggesting federal funding for HBCU’s is unconstitutional; this validates our view of a horrible decision by the university inviting Secretary DeVos, who still has not pledged to drastically increase funding for all historically black colleges and universities.”
— Change.org (@Change) May 9, 2017
The petition refers to a statement released by DeVos in February, in which she referred to HBCUs as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”
“Betsy DeVos doesn’t understand that HBCUs were created in response to the exclusion of African Americans from mainstream institutions,” says the petition. “Secretary DeVos has no understanding of the importance, contributions, and significance of HBCUs.”
— Dream Defenders (@Dreamdefenders) May 9, 2017
Trump himself released a statement Sunday in which he promised “unwavering support” for the nation’s HBCUs. The president was criticized by black progressive leaders for his statement earlier in the week in which he said that provisions that distribute federal funds on the basis of race, with an example being the HCBU program, would be treated “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”
According to Politico, Trump’s earlier statement “raised questions about whether Trump would implement” the HBCU program because it questioned whether the Constitution allows a federal financing program based on race.
Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s statement was “misinformed factually,” and called the president’s statement “stunningly careless and divisive.”
— FL Education Assn (@FloridaEA) May 2, 2017
The B-CU petition also objects to the secretary’s recent withdrawal of protections put in place by the Obama administration for students who have mismanaged or are defaulting on their student loans.
“Secretary DeVos chose an HBCU as the venue for her first commencement address to demonstrate my Administration’s dedication to these great institutions of higher learning,” the president said. “I look forward to selecting an Executive Director and Board for my HBCU initiative and continuing this important work with HBCUs throughout the nation.”
In an open letter published at the Orlando Sentinel, B-CU’s president defended his decision to invite DeVos. He observed that “dialogue is a two-way street,” and specifically pointed to the fact that some college presidents “have rescinded invitations to potentially controversial speakers.”
“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,” Jackson continued.
“One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as ‘other,’” he wrote. “When we shelter our students and campus communities from views that are diametrically opposed to their own, we actually leave our students far less capable of combating those ideas.”
DeVos herself released her own statement on Sunday, emphasizing that she is “a strong supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the critical role they play in communities and in our higher education system.”
“I am happy to see the president reaffirmed this Administration’s support for HCBUs,” she continued. “I will continue to be an advocate for them and for programs that make higher education more accessible to all students.”