University of Baltimore students and community members waved signs in Gordon Plaza on the school’s campus Sept. 11, in protest of the announcement that Betsy DeVos, the controversial U.S. Secretary of Education, will be the Fall commencement speaker at UB.
Kurt Schmoke, UB President and former Baltimore Mayor, made the announcement last week, the same week DeVos announced an effort to roll back Obama-era Title IX protections across college campuses in the U.S., which in part protect students from sexual assault.
“I’m graduating in December and I’m so proud of myself for the accomplishments that I have achieved here at UB and my graduation will not be the same for myself or any of the students here. She does not represent the ideals of what UB is or what Baltimore City has for the public education system at all,” graduate student Devon Washington, told the AFRO.
According to the University of Baltimore Student Government Association (SGA), the student body had no say in the decision to invite Devos to speak at the school’s commencement. “The truth is we welcome Betsy Devos here to come on campus. This is not the right time or right atmosphere for her to come and speak on policies that we don’t truly represent,” Keanuu Smith-Brown Student Government Vice President said. “If she is going to come and stand in front of us and say that she is going to cut funding for public schools and she is going to stand in front of us and say that she is willing to cut funding for Pell grants and stand in front of us and say that she is not going to enforce Title IX on universities and campuses across the country then no, we are not going to back a woman like that.”
Smith-Brown would prefer that Devos would come to the campus and address the issues he mentioned instead of promoting policies that do not represent the student body.
A petition that requested President Schmoke rescind his invitation to DeVos has generated over 2,800 signatures so far.
Schmoke issued a statement Sept. 11 that said, “I extended my invitation to Secretary DeVos in January of this year and she accepted shortly thereafter. In my letter of invitation, I afforded her the opportunity to use the event to not only congratulate our graduates but to also present her views on higher education issues on her choice…After reading about events at other universities where persons were denied the right to speak because some on campus opposed the views of the speaker, I became convinced that the University of Baltimore was the right institution to affirm the academy’s commitment to freedom of speech.”
Ben Jealous, the former National President & CEO of the NAACP and current candidate for Maryland governor, also stood in solidarity with the students and spoke at the protest. He told the AFRO, “I teach at Princeton University and I’m a big supporter of bringing controversial speakers to campus on every day except for graduation day. Our graduation speakers traditionally are speakers who speak to the best values of the university and the highest aspirations of the students. Betsy Devos’s leadership is contrary to both,” Jealous said.
This is not the first time DeVos has been met with criticism on a college campus. Last spring, many graduates at Bethune-Cookman University turned their backs on her as she spoke at the historically Black university’s Spring commencement.