Dr. Edison O. Jackson — who has invited Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speak at Bethune-Cookman University’s spring commencement — has responded to the criticism issued by B-CU community as graduation day approaches.
Writing in the Orlando Sentinel, Dr. Jackson, who is the sixth president of Bethune-Cookman University, and also a graduate of Howard University, wrote that despite the concerns about DeVos, he is moving forward with this opportunity.
“I am especially sensitive to balancing the notion of academic freedom with quelling potentially hateful and harmful rhetoric,” he writes. “The political and racial chasms in our county have deepened, and college presidents have struggled with these issues over the past few months. Some have rescinded invitations to potentially controversial speakers.”
“That is not my intention with DeVos. 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.”
Dr. Jackson goes on to state that he believes B-CU founder Mary McLeod Bethune would approve of DeVos:
“Bethune depended upon the support of people who were scattered all along the ideological and political spectrum – some she agreed with, and some she did not. She understood, however, the great value of education, and she understood the nuances of how to balance delicate and difficult relationships in order to achieve her ultimate goal of building an institution of higher learning, of which we are the beneficiaries today.”
He goes on to name those who had supported Bethune’s mission, saying, “Thomas White (White Sewing Machine Co.), John D. Rockefeller (oil baron), James Proctor (Proctor and Gamble), Henry Flagler (Standard Oil), and President Franklin D. and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, just to name a few.”