Why was Betsy DeVos awarded an honorary degree from an HBCU in the first place?

DeVos was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college. The students were not happy.

Graduating students booed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as she spoke here Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University’s commencement, and many turned their backs to protest her appearance at the historically black school.

There are lots of reasons to despise DeVos. I would have turned my back on her if she’d appeared at our commencement. She’s an ignorant billionaire who inherited a fortune made with multi-level marketing scams, and she is not at all competent to head an educational organization. Her agenda is to advance her privileges, by wrecking the educational system for others with promotions of vouchers and “school choice”, diluting general education for all by maintaining a hierarchy of schools with varying degrees of institutional support. That’s what had the students riled. She made a few ignorant comments about HBCUs.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” DeVos said in the statement, released Monday night in advance of Trump’s planned signing of an executive order giving the schools more clout. “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.”

No. HBCUs were the product of segregation and discrimination. They were formed because black people were excluded from predominantly white institutions of higher education. It wasn’t a matter of choice at all, but necessity due to racism. Now they’ve cultivated pride and a sense of place and aren’t going away. But don’t pretend the impetus to build them was choice; you might as well pretend African-Americans got here because their ancestors chose to take a cruise.

There was a lot of anger in that room.

Her speech was the typical pious crap we get from the people with power addressing the little people.

The natural instinct is to join in the chorus of conflict, to make your voice louder, your point bigger and your position stronger. But we will not solve the significant and real problems our country faces if we cannot bring ourselves to embrace a mind-set of grace. We must first listen, then speak — with humility — to genuinely hear the perspectives of those with whom we don’t immediately or instinctively agree

Don’t make noise. Be nice. Be humble. LISTEN TO ME, THE RICH WHITE LADY. I can make your lives even worse.

Sometimes, the people given power over an HBCU (or any university, for that matter) are more attuned to the desires of the wealthy donor class than to the needs of the community they serve. The president of Bethune-Cookman, Edison Jackson, mirrors exactly what DeVos said.

Jackson wrote in a letter to the campus community that a willingness to engage with varying viewpoints is a hallmark of higher education. “I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community,” he wrote. “If our students are robbed of the opportunity to experience and interact with views that may be different from their own, then they will be tremendously less equipped for the demands of democratic citizenship.”

That’s patronizing and insulting. I suspect those students, who are graduates of 4 years of good education already, are entirely familiar with the condescending apologetics of the rich, and don’t need to hear one more white billionaire explain to them how to be better servants to a system that enriches the haves and keeps the have-nots quiet, respectful, and accommodating.


  1. bcwebb says

    Edison Jackson was forced out after the DeVos debacle. The current president is Hubert L. Grimes.

  2. whywhywhy says

    Did a member of the graduating student body get to make a rebuttal address to the ‘Shut up and do what your told’ message from DeVos?

  3. robro says

    Obviously Jackson doesn’t get the irony of what he said. DeVos needs to hear opposing viewpoints, and got a chance here. I doubt she listened.

  4. bionichips says

    My girlfriend suggested money changed hands to she could get her honorary doctorate. I tend to agree with her.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    She’s an ignorant billionaire who inherited a fortune made with multi-level marketing scams…

    Nope, DeVos is an ignorant billionaire who inherited a fortune made with auto parts manufacturing, and married into a fortune made with multi-level marketing scams.

  6. chrislawson says

    Doubling down on robro’s comment @5–


    We must first listen, then speak — with humility — to genuinely hear the perspectives of those with whom we don’t immediately or instinctively agree

    Funny how the powerful, rich, self-obsessed moron expects everyone to listen to her and only speak with humility when she has done the exact opposite all her life.

  7. chrislawson says

    PZ, you know why BCU gave her an honorary degree. They’re currying favour. This is of course a betrayal of their students, staff, and founding philosophy and is almost certainly going to fail to sway DeVos in any significant manner. But that’s why they’re doing it.