DeVos graduation speech in Baltimore draws protest

When Betsy DeVos delivered the commencement address at the University of Baltimore Monday, some students turned their back on her in protest, the Baltimore Sun reports.

In the opinion of several graduates, professors, and former graduates, some of whom intentionally skipped the graduation ceremony in protest, others who turned their back on Ms DeVos and raised their fists in the air during her speech, Ms DeVos’s espousal of school choice initiatives does not reflect the public school values held by the majority of UB students.

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

“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,” stated a petition signed by more than 3,000 people in urging the university to rescind the invitation.

But the university’s president, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L Schmoke, said he wants the university to espouse the ideals of free speech and felt that having the US secretary of education visit the UB campus could serve that mission very well.

“The university stands for freedom of speech,” Mr Schmoke said when he extended the invitation. “My bottom line conclusion is the university stands for debate on controversial issues. I do feel that having the US 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.”

Remarks by the US secretary of education


This is one time where I have to disagree with students. Ms DeVos has become somewhat of a lightning rod over the ideas of corporate privatization efforts for public schools and vouchers. That’s because she supports changes to US law that would make it easier for corporations to earn profits off of educating students.

In supporting or opposing any argument, it is first necessary to understand and internalize the argument. What aspects of privatization or vouchers are worth talking about or could make schools better? Why do so many people like these ideas?

In the world of free speech, many idiots get to talk, and I honestly can’t learn anything about what they want our laws to do based on what they say. Ms DeVos, on the other hand, is a well-spoken, articulate education secretary who has not only the ear of the country but also an ability to spell out the argument in clear and complete terms.

That makes her opinion very valuable in fostering the debate, as Mr Schmoke pointed out. Without a clearly argued position “for” vouchers, we’re never going to be able to argue “against” them to an audience who will listen. Over the past 30 years or so, states and school districts have asked voters a few dozen times about vouchers. They have been resoundingly defeated, shut off by large margins, time and again. Yet the idea keeps coming up.

Only by understanding what the point held by voucher proponents represents will we be able to debate this issue, and Ms DeVos is the best spokesperson yet for that camp. Her heart is in the right place in trying to do what she thinks is best for children in the US, and for that, I applaud her and Mr Schmoke.

Putting this issue to Congress or to the American people is the only way to settle this debate. Vouchers don’t work, and everybody who would vote knows it. Privatization would lead to a reduction, not an increase, in the quality of education for our students. Everybody who would vote also knows that. But without a debate, there is no opportunity to present evidence in a cool, rational way; all we get is a bunch of ideologues yelling at each other. Time to move on, time to vote. Ms DeVos, thank you for your remarks and for your service.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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