My alma mater Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Florida, has invited
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to deliver the 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
Bethune-Cookman historically serves students from challenged backgrounds, the lion’s share
of these students graduate 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 budget proposed by President
Trump and Betsy 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
And it’s not just DeVos’ antipathy to public education that raises concerns about this invitation,
but DeVos’ 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.
On February 28, 2017, DeVos released the following statement after meeting with presidents
and chancellors of HCBUs 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 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
Fedrick C. Ingram
Proud Alumnus of Bethune-Cookman
Vice President, Florida Education Association