Education Secretary Betsy DeVos received an honorary degree and gave a commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Florida, today. Throughout her speech, DeVos was booed by students upset that she had been chosen as their graduation speaker. Faculty who were on stage with DeVos stood and applauded to signal their support.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak with you,” DeVos said. She continued, “And particularly with those who have disagreed with the invitation for me to be here. One of the hallmarks of higher education and of democracy is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree.”
At that point in her speech, the booing was so disruptive that University President Edison Jackson stepped forward and spoke to the crowd. “If this behavior continues your degrees will be mailed to you,” he warned. “Choose which way you want to go,” he added before stepping back to let the graduates work it out. DeVos did return to her speech but the shouts and booing started up again immediately. They eventually died down but never completely went away.
The opposition to DeVos’ speech, which was supported by the local NAACP, was based in part on a comment she made about historically black colleges back in February. From the Washington Post:
Many advocates of historically black colleges and universities were apoplectic after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the group of schools forged at the height of racial segregation “pioneers” of “school choice.”
DeVos issued a statement Monday evening after a meeting with HBCU leaders, praising their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it “upon themselves to provide the solution” from the outset of their founding.
Granted, that wasn’t the best way to frame the creation of colleges started as a result of segregation. Still, Devos’ choice of Bethune-Cookman University as the site of her first commencement address shows she is making an effort to show respect for HBCUs. Shouting down her speech before she even got started seems like just another attempt by the left to silence the opposition. Some progressives really seem to believe they have a right to veto an opponents’ speech if they think they won’t like it.