Devos Visit to Bethune-Cookman Stirs Controversy

May 11, 2017

Bethune-Cookman University says it supports the First Amendment rights of its students. The comment is a response to the Florida NAACP’s claims that students and faculty are being threatened if they complain about the upcoming visit of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Without providing specific names, the NAACP Florida State Conference claims there have been multiple allegations that the university intimidated students and faculty.

“Multiple allegations have surfaced including faculty intimidation demanding their silence or risk termination and threats to students by potentially withholding earned degrees,” said the NAACP in a statement.

The university responded in a statement: “We have not and will not seek to chill the free speech of our students and faculty as we support the free exchange of alternative ideas in all academic efforts.” DeVos is Wednesday’s commencement speaker, despite protests and online petitions against her visit that have collected more than 50,000 signatures.

DeVos was criticized in February when she pointed to historically black colleges as examples of school choice. DeVos later walked that back, telling HBCU leaders “Your history was born, not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson was part of a group of presidents from historically black colleges who visited with President Trump back in February.

Trump added a signing statement last week to the federal budget bill that could disregard funding for historically black colleges. On Sunday DeVos issued a statement “I am a strong supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the critical role they play in communities and in our higher education system.”

Opponents to DeVos’s visit say the commencement is not the right event, that she should be listening to and talking with the HBCU community.