Betsy DeVos Just Got An Unpleasant Welcome At University Commencement Speech

They didn’t want her to come.

Over 3,200 students and faculty signed a petition opposing the decision to invite Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to be the speaker at the University of Baltimore’s Fall 2017 Commencement, an invitation made “solely by the University President, Kurt Schmoke”, according to Kristen Mack, the author of the entreaty.

Ms. Mack offers compelling reasons in her petition as to why DeVos would be an inappropriate choice as a speaker, besides the lack of involvement in the choice by any of the student body or faculty:

“Regardless of anyone’s political views, it is the obligation of University Administrators and Faculty to take into account and show respect for the monumental efforts of our graduates, and to facilitate an inclusive, empowering graduation ceremony. Inviting an individual that has caused, is causing, and has potential to continue to cause direct harm to students at this school shows clear disregard for the safety and well-being of students. Further, it creates an implicit endorsement of policies that can and will have a lasting negative impact on the very graduates this ceremony is supposed to celebrate. Ms. DeVos seems to go against the very core of so many of UB’s values and makes our mission statement look to be a mockery. We can’t send consistent letters of support and inclusiveness to the student body and yet at the same time sell ourselves so short. How is this support for students who have been negatively affected and further marginalized by the statements and policies of Secretary DeVos? We oppose any individual speaking at our commencement who does not celebrate and uplift each and every one of our graduates.”

Despite this articulate plea against it, DeVos’ invitation to address the graduating students was not rescinded, and she went in front of the assembled students last Wednesday to give a speech that they many of them did not want to hear.

So the students, their petition and their wishes ignored, turned to a time-honored campus tradition, the student protest.

Students stood up and turned their backs one by one after DeVos took the podium, with one student in the front row sporting a graduation cap emblazoned with the words “#Not my commencement speaker,” according to a report in The Baltimore Sun. Another decorated her cap with the words “Nevertheless, she persisted” positioned above the image of a pink “pussy” hat.

It was not only the students who were offended by Devos’ presence at the commencement. One faculty member on the stage joined the students in the audience in raising a fist in protest, and others skipped the ceremony to join the few dozen protestors outside the commencement’s venue.

“‘We don’t feel the secretary of education represents the best interests of this college or the students who go to it,’ said writing professor Marion Winik.”

University President Schmoke insists that the presence of DeVos was an expression of support for free speech.

“My bottom line conclusion is the university stands for debate on controversial issues. I do feel that having the U.S. Secretary of Education on our campus is something that’s very important for the university, and in the long run, I believe that students will recognize that whether they agree with her position on issues or not,” he told The Sun in an interview earlier this semester.

Not all students agreed:

“Having her at the ceremony is “raining on our parade,” said graduate Carlisa Bydume.”

“She is coming to talk to people she marginalizes on a daily basis,” said another graduating student.

The continued outrage generated by the policies DeVos is instituting at the Department of Education, favoring private charter schools over public education amongst them, have made her a pariah amongst progressive educators, students, and parents across the country. Inviting her to address a commencement ceremony will surely be seen as a hostile political act by her detractors, and will be certain to generate protests over her presence.

Judging from the comments in the coverage of the protest, there are at least a few University of Baltimore alumni who will be forgoing any future contributions to the school because of this controversial commencement choice.

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Vinnie Longobardo

Vinnie Longobardo is a writer, producer, and international media executive formerly with MTV/Viacom, G4/Comcast, and Warner Bros., among others. He is a winner of the International Documentary Association Award for "Artists United Against Apartheid: The Making Of Sun City". Growing up in the Bronx, he was a high school classmate of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He attended Cornell University, SUNY Binghamton, and NY Institute of Technology.

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