Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary, Accepts Invite to Speak at UB Winter Commencement

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Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

A controversial Cabinet member is coming to the University of Baltimore this winter to help usher newly minted graduates off into the working world.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has accepted an invitation from the university to speak at commencement in December, according to administrators. City Paper first reported the news, which University of Baltimore spokesman Chris Hart confirmed to Baltimore Fishbowl.

Hart released the following statement from the school:

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has accepted an invitation from the University of Baltimore to deliver a keynote address at this fall’s Commencement, scheduled for Dec. 18. Throughout our nearly 100-year history, UB has pursued a commitment to intellectual engagement and an array of opinions; this is a foundational goal at our institution and is today expressed in our invitation to the Secretary to speak to and get to know our community.

Historically, drawing a top Cabinet member to speak at a graduation ceremony in Baltimore would be an impressive achievement, but DeVos is an odd fit for the part.

A career businesswoman, Republican Party fundraiser and a member of one of Michigan’s wealthiest families, DeVos had never worked as a teacher or an education administrator when Trump tapped her to lead the U.S. Department of Education in November 2016. The U.S. Senate went 50-50 on a confirmation vote in February; Vice President Mike Pence ultimately pushed her through with a tiebreaker vote.

In her seven months so far as education secretary, DeVos has championed school choice — and wrongly labeled historically black colleges and universities as a school choice success during a speech – and rescinded an Obama-era federal rule that would have made for-profit colleges more accountable for defrauding students. (Maryland and 17 other states have sued her for the latter move.)

Just this week, she also announced plans to rewrite rules for campus sexual assault guidelines to offer better treatment for the accused, drawing condemnation from survivor advocacy groups and many current and former officeholders.

DeVos hasn’t been well-received during some of her visits to schools around the country. During her first official appearance as education secretary in February, she visited a middle school in Southwest Washington D.C. and was promptly blocked by protesters from getting into through the main entrance. (She got in through a side door.) In May, graduates booed and turned their backs to her while she gave a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida.

Hart said no details were immediately available about how the University of Baltimore decided to invite DeVos. He said there’s “a fair amount of dialogue going on” on campus. Student groups, alumni and even high school guidance counselors have contacted the school about it, he said. “They all want to know the why and the how.”

UB Student Government Association president Mariame Dangnokho wrote in a letter to her peers yesterday that the “SGA was not included in the discussion to have Ms. DeVos as the speaker and was not made aware of her involvement until today, when some of you found out.”

“We understand many of your frustrations and discontent with this invitation and are looking into how this decision was made,” Dangnokho wrote.

Hart said the university plans to hold meetings about the matter and will have likely more information available next week.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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1 COMMENT

  1. If UB wants to get to know Ms. DeVos and have her get to know them, invite her for a lecture…or talk on Education and Government, or whatever she may be qualified to discuss….but to invite her to commencement seems like a wicked choice. If it were my graduation, I would be conflicted about attending. I think it a VERY poor choice. I firmly believe in controversy on Campus…but not at commencement.

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