Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will deliver the keynote address at Bethune-Cookman University’s May 10 graduation, despite objections from the NAACP and an online petition asking the university to choose another speaker.
DeVos’ visit, the second to a Central Florida college, is another sign of the Trump administration’s efforts to reach out small colleges and universities. She toured Valencia College March 24.
In a news release Monday, Bethune-Cookman president Edison O. Jackson highlighted the importance of funding from the U.S. Department of Education and compared Devos’ mission with university founder Mary McLeod Bethune.
“Much like Dr. Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Secretary DeVos deems the importance of opportunity and hope for students to receive an exceptional education experience,” said Jackson in the release. “Her mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy of Dr. Bethune.”
NAACP Florida State Conference president Adora Obi Nweze told the Associated Press that “DeVos is undeserving of the invitation.”
A Change.org petition requesting the university rescind DeVos’ invitation had collected 4,281 signatures Tuesday. The petition questions the secretary’s statements about school choice and her cuts to protections on college loans.
DeVos commented in February that historically black colleges and universities were “the real pioneers when it comes to school choice” and “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”
Yet, critics pointed out that the schools were founded because black students could not get into white schools and it was not a choice but their only option.
Black leaders accused DeVos of “whitewashing the country’s history of racial segregation.”
“Although she corrected herself the next day, the damage was already done,” according to the online petition. “Having DeVos speak at the commencement ceremony is an insult to the BCU graduating class, students, alumni, family, friends, and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy. We, the proud alumni of Bethune-Cookman University, do not want Betsy DeVos to have a seat at our table.”
Last month DeVos weakened consumer protection for student loan borrowers. According to U.S. News & World Report, 97 percent of full-time undergraduates who attend BCU receive some need-based financial aid.