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Betsy DeVos Invited to Speak at… Bethune-Cookman Commencement??

May 6, 2017

Below is the May 03, 2017, press release from Historically Black University, Bethune-Cookman:

The Honorable Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education Will Serve as Keynote Speaker at Bethune-Cookman University Commencement

Secretary Betsy DeVos, An Advocate for Education, A Supporter in Philanthropy

Daytona Beach, Fla.– The Honorable Betsy DeVos will be the keynote speaker for B-CU spring 2017 commencement ceremony on May 10th located at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach (101 N Atlantic Ave). Secretary DeVos is the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education and serves as an education policy advocate for students across the country. Over the last three decades, DeVos has devoted her career in support of the opportunity for a quality educational experience for students.

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. Her mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy of Dr. Bethune. B-CU President, Dr. Edison O. Jackson expressed, “Bethune-Cookman University is a school built on the legacy and the transformation of students. Dr. Bethune’s love for students started with five little girls and grew to over 250 students during her time as university president.” “The legacy of Dr. Bethune is that she was not constrained by political ideology, but worked across all parties to support B-CU,” he explained.

Moreover, students are directly impacted by funding dollars that are dispersed through the Department of Education. B-CU receives $4 million annually through Title III, which supports teaching, research and infrastructure. Additionally, Title IV impacts the ability of B-CU students to receive federal financial aid, overall influencing the ascension of Bethune-Cookman University students.

Through Secretary DeVos’ life work, her contributions extend far beyond her home state of Michigan. Secretary DeVos has supported educational opportunities for students in over 25 states and supported Central Florida through several philanthropic efforts: 100 Black Men of Central Florida; Jones High School, and the Parramore neighborhood located in Orlando to name a few.

Secretary DeVos is a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. She is the wife of community activist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dick DeVos, where they have four adult children and six grandchildren.

This year’s commencement ceremony will take place on Wednesday, May 10th, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. located at the Ocean Center (101 N Atlantic Ave). This is a ticketed event and guests are highly recommended to adhere to the National Football Association, ‘Clear Bag Policy.’ The commencement ceremony will stream live via and radio broadcast on WELE The Cat 1380.

For more information, contact Ursula James, Assistant Director of Communications, 386-481-2975 or

Office of Communications

Ursula James
Asst. Director of Communications
PH: 386-481-2975
FX: Fax

About Bethune Cookman University:

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement.  B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000.  For more information, visit

The same day as the press release (May 03, 2017), Bethune-Cookman President Edison O. Jackson defends his decision to invite DeVos to speak. Here is his opinion piece from the Orlando Sentinel:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, at my invitation, will speak at Bethune-Cookman University’s spring commencement. I understand the concerns about her, and I genuinely appreciate those who voice those concerns in a constructive manner.

I am especially sensitive to balancing the notion of academic freedom with quelling potentially hateful and harmful rhetoric. The political and racial chasms in our county have deepened, and college presidents have struggled with these issues over the past few months. Some have rescinded invitations to potentially controversial speakers.

That is not my intention with DeVos. 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.

One of the lasting hallmarks of higher education is its willingness to engage, explore and experience that which we deem as “other.” 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.

In addition, the sheer diversity of our human family requires us to listen to and understand one another. We cannot, and we will not, ever accomplish this if we continue to exist in ideological, social and racial silos.

As a private, non-partisan institution, B-CU is not in the business of endorsing any specific political perspective, nor are we in the business of prohibiting political perspectives that may differ from those of some members of our 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.

No one understood this better than our venerable founder, Mary McLeod Bethune. She did all she could during the nascent stages of this institution to equip her students with the necessary skills to navigate the precarious waters of fundamental disagreement. She modeled this by interacting with and uniquely engaging those who had to be convinced of her mission to provide education to her people.

Bethune depended upon the support of people who were scattered all along the ideological and political spectrum – some she agreed with, and some she did not. She understood, however, the great value of education, and she understood the nuances of how to balance delicate and difficult relationships in order to achieve her ultimate goal of building an institution of higher learning, of which we are the beneficiaries today.

Bethune received tremendous support from Thomas White (White Sewing Machine Co.), John D. Rockefeller (oil baron), James Proctor (Proctor and Gamble), Henry Flagler (Standard Oil), and President Franklin D. and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, just to name a few.

These leaders represented diverse political and social views, and Bethune invited them all to visit and support her institution. It is in that same vein that I have invited DeVos to speak.

Perhaps DeVos, much like those early initial skeptics who came to our college, will be inspired by the profound work that occurs here with our students.

At the end of the day, it really is all about the success of our students, and if there are opportunities to possibly influence their success, then we must seize upon them.

DeVos presents such an opportunity.

I close with a history lesson relevant to today, and to our founder’s era.

In 1932, at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, the University of Chicago, one of this nation’s leading institutions of higher learning, invited Communist Party presidential candidate William Z. Foster to lecture on its campus.

Faculty members, students, alums and various members of the community were outraged at the decision to have such a controversial figure to speak.

Robert Hutchins, the University of Chicago’s president at the time, responded to the criticism with the following quote: “The cure for ideas that we may oppose lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition … free inquiry is indispensible to the good life, universities exist for the sake of such inquiry, and without free inquiry, they cease to be universities.”

I have gratitude for the past, and hope for the future. So I ask the courtesy of your consideration to hear what Betsy DeVos, the 11th U.S. secretary of education, tells us.

Remember that dialogue is a two-way street.

  Bethune-Cookman President Edison Jackson

It is one thing to invite DeVos to tour the Bethune-Cookman campus to tour and speak to a group of students in the name of “two way street.”

It is quite another to invite her to offer the commencement speech and– according to Bethune-Cookman alum, Fedrick Ingram— present her with an honorary degree.

  Bethune-Cookman alum Fedrick Ingram

Also on May 03, 2017, Ingram started a petition aimed at convincing Jackson that DeVos “has no place at our HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]”:

To: President Edison Jackson, Bethune-Cookman University

Betsy DeVos Had No Place at Our HBCU

Please reconsider your controversial invitation of Betsy DeVos and cancel her commencement address to Bethune-Cookman University’s class of 2017.

My alma mater, Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Florida, has invited U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to deliver this year’s commencement speech and receive an honorary degree. But the policies DeVos pushes would have terrible consequences for future generations of Bethune-Cookman students—and for historically black colleges and universities themselves.

Bethune-Cookman has historically served students from challenged backgrounds, with the lion’s share of these students coming from public schools throughout America. But DeVos is no fan of public education, calling our public schools a “dead end,” and using millions of dollars of her family fortune to promote private school vouchers; unregulated, for-profit charter schools; and other policies that defund, destabilize and privatize the public schools our communities rely on.

DeVos’ ideology and advocacy are especially harmful to students of color—the very students Bethune-Cookman and other HBCUs were created to serve. And the recent budget proposed by President Trump and DeVos would slash billions of dollars in federal funding for programs that help students of color reach, attend and graduate from college.

Graduates of Bethune-Cookman’s school of education understand the value and importance of public education, and overwhelmingly return to teach in public schools—a path I took myself after graduation.

And it’s not just DeVos’ antipathy to public education or willingness to slash resources HBCUs rely on that raise concerns about this invitation but also her seeming indifference to the history and role of HBCUs in the first place.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman to provide African-American students with the opportunity to receive the highest level of academic quality at a time when black students were refused entrance into colleges and universities across America.

But on Feb. 28 of this year, DeVos released the following statement after meeting with presidents and chancellors of HBCUs at the White House: “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

At best, this is an outrageous assertion that black students had opportunities to study where they chose; at worst, this is a failed attempt to use HBCUs to push an educational reform movement that continues to disenfranchise children throughout this country, especially in her home state of Michigan and specifically in Detroit.

The students graduating this year and their families deserve to celebrate their achievement without controversy—and future generations deserve the opportunity to attend high-quality public schools and reach for their dreams at institutions like Bethune-Cookman. Inviting Betsy DeVos creates an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction for students who have worked hard to earn a degree, and elevating DeVos and her radical ideas threatens the future of public education and the vision and mission of Bethune-Cookman and all HBCUs nationwide.

Please join me in asking university President Edison O. Jackson to reconsider and rescind DeVos’ invitation.

As of this writing, Ingram’s petition has almost 43,000 signatures.

DeVos’ attendance at the Bethune-Cookman graduation will be yet another event at which her presence is controversial enough to draw protesters.

It is assumed that DeVos will be travelling with her federal marshal security service. Her being escorted by federal marshals to speak at a HBCU commencement will surely be tempting fodder for political cartoonists.

But she should get someone else to write her speech– someone who will forsake the temptation to use the opportunity to turn it into yet another DeVos advertisement for school choice.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Tweeted



  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    In my opinion, this is a case of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. You can see why I say this by looking at Trump’s executive order. Some might call it a case of pandering.

  3. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Well, it’s not really surprising, but now Trump is threatening that funding HBCU’s is unconstitutional.

  4. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Christine. Thata is a Wow link. Who knows what Trumo/DeVos will do. I suspect that the speechwriters will go for some link to choice, just as Mercedes predicts.

  5. Linda permalink

    Five of the colleges in Gates’ Frontier Set are HBCU’s.
    First, the Koch’s undermined public support for taxes. Then, the Aspen Institute succeeded with its agenda to corporatize and privatize K-12 public education. (David Koch is on the Aspen board and Gates finances its education programs.) Then, with bi-partisan support, universities were targeted with a replacement process for college accreditation (the plan-student outcome measures- crafted by by former employee of Gates’ New America and by Sen. Rubio). The next step was Gates’ incursion into higher ed. “implementing business models for collaborative course development and delivery.”

    BTW- Gates funded an attempt to defeat Washington state judges who had rendered verdicts favorable to public schools.

    • Linda permalink

      Crises created. Oligarchs in the wings, pushing business profit-making solutions. Or, more accurately, detonating an avalanche to destroy American democracy.

  6. Cena Baker permalink

    While the university’s president makes a valiant effort to defend his position it smacks of grovelling and pandering. The current administration has, at it’s foundation, the desire to “blow up” the establishment that produces the likes of Barack Obama. Their place is to divide and conquer. Anyone​who argues otherwise does not want to face the truth. Mrs. Devos choice as keynote speaker is a step into the dismantling of education for people of color. Particularly with the President’s recent position that funding for HBCUs is unconstitutional.

    • Linda permalink

      5% of the 100 HBCU’s are in Gates’ new Frontier Set program, while only .005% of other U.S. colleges and universities are part of the program. A goal identified at the program site is “to implement business models for collaborative course development and delivery.” Since the program originates with funding from a tech billionaire described as unimaginative, I speculate the outcome will be a cost cutting digital model. HBCU’s are financially weaker, which makes them more vulnerable to strings-attached money. Gates could have given HBCU’s money without strings attached. And, they could have decided if Frontier would harm democracy, the future of the nation, and their communities of students, scholars, staff and administrators.

      Concentrated wealth, resulting from colonialist politics, hollowed out the middle class. The consequence is, a colonial state, characterized by two-tier education, made up of schools for the elite and training for workers.

      Obama gave Gates the Medal of Freedom, when he should have received the Medal of Fiefdom. Sen. Booker described as the future of the Democratic Party, is a school privatizer like Gates and Walton heirs.

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