I was over the initial appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. I mean it was just another laughable appointment in a stream of under qualified candidates that made up the “alternative facts” spectacle of 45’s cabinet. But the more recent decision of an HBCU, Bethune-Cookman University, to have Betsy DeVos as their commencement speaker is just an additional slap in the face. The decision is a troubling trend I see in some HBCU’s need to pander to the mainstream.
Secretary of Education, DeVos in an earlier statement praised HBCU’s as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Not quite Ms. Secretary. HBCU’s were not originated because black students could not decide between Harvard and the University of Alabama. HBCU’s were necessary because there were little to no other options for minorities in regards to higher education. DeVos has no experience in public schools, she did not even send her children to public school nor has she had any experience running a government program. And DeVos certainly has no experience with HBCU’s.
DeVos speaking at a commencement for an HBCU is like having R. Kelly as guest den mother for a Girl Scout troop. The invitation to DeVos to be a commencement speaker is a symptomatic trend of some HBCU’s being culturally tone death. Do I have to remind everyone of the HBCU presidential photo op? I felt like I had been virtually, open hand, pimp slapped after watching an unprecedented number of HBCU presidents grinning and standing around 45. They all stood by complacently as 45 signed a very media hyped HBCU Executive Order. But on closer examination some HBCU leaders called foul. Morgan State University President David Wilson did not attend the White House PR stunt and was among the first to publicly critique the new order. He said there was very little that was different in previous years and with all the hype, he expected more. I don’t know why.
This almost incessant need to be validated by the mainstream is something that I see as an ongoing trend among some HBCUs. There has been a significant shift in the culture of education. Institutions are not hiring full time faculty but choose instead to pimp part time educators to support their programs. It is through this trend and “loop hole” of hiring part time, that many mainstream institutions exaggerate their commitment to diversity. According to a study from the National Center for Educational Statistics 84 percent of full time faculty are white with 60 percent men and 24 percent women. All other minorities make up the remaining 16 percent.
Many years ago during my early tenure I was one of the final candidates for a PWCU in South Carolina. I was invited for a campus lecture and visit which for academics means you have the credentials and background they just want to make sure you are the right “fit.” The campus was diverse in fact the class that I presented to boasted over half the students as people of color. The faculty however was all old white folks. They kept asking questions like “would you be happy here?” which is really code for we don’t think we would be happy with you here.
Fast forward a few years later I found myself on another campus interview for a program director, this time at an HBCU. Upon arrival I found that the Chair of the program was white, interesting. Then we met with the Dean, who was also white, more interesting. Then it became even more entertaining when the very arrogant, white Dean asked me why did I want to come there? I laughed out loud and responded, “I’m sorry is this not an HBCU? I thought the presence of a black, male educator would never need explanation.”
The point I want to make by sharing these two stories is mainstream institutions are not committed nor or they concerned with making sure minority faculty have a place at PWCU so why are some HBCU’s so worried about having a mainstream presence?
Florida NAACP President Adora Nweze recently shared some alleged retaliatory actions toward those peacefully protesting DeVos presence. “Multiple allegations have surfaced, including faculty intimidation demanding their silence or (risking) termination,” Nweze stated. “And (there were accusations of) threats to students by potentially withholding earned degrees and fines for freedom of expression.”
Is an HBCU really that concerned about offending a woman and an administration whose policies clearly do not support your constituency or institutions mission statement? Maybe it’s time for Bethune-Cookman University and other institutions, with similar trends towards accommodating the mainstream, to remember and honor the “B” in HBCU?