Bethune-Cookman University raised eyebrows when it announced on Monday that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would deliver the keynote speech at its 2017 commencement ceremony.
DeVos said in a statement that she accepted the invitation from the historically Black university, adding that she looks “forward to meeting with students and addressing the graduating class as they embark on the next exciting chapter of their lives.”
In his announcement, B-CU President Dr. Edison O. Jackson heaped praise on DeVos, comparing the education secretary to Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, the African-American educator and civil rights advocate who founded the Daytona, Florida HBCU in 1904.
But this news raised the ire of the NAACP Florida State Conference, which called the invitation a “slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color,” in a statement.
The Florida NAACP said DeVos has “a horrible public education record impacting Blacks and minorities in Florida and around the country” and urged the university not to give DeVos an honorary degree because of her attack on the public higher education system.
In accepting the invitation, DeVos applauded Bethune-Cookman “as a great example of the terrific education HBCUs have historically and continue to provide to students.”
Two months earlier, DeVos sparked outrage when she called HBCUs “pioneers of school choice.” She was apparently ignorant to the historic fact the Jim Crow laws barred African-Americans from attending traditionally White institutions.
As of Tuesday morning, more than 4,300 people signed an online petition urging the university to rescind its invitation to DeVos.