Howard University President Wayne Frederick welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos with open arms.
Only time will tell if Frederick made a wise decision.
DeVos, the polarizing Education Secretary, got her first photo-op at a historically Black college since her razor-thin confirmation thanks to Frederick’s high-profile meeting.
A billionaire who is facing mounting criticism for her idea to privatize public schools, DeVos was all smiles at a get-together last week with Frederick and several Howard students.
Skeptics wasted no time blasting the meeting as a self-serving stunt by DeVos, who has been panned by civil rights advocates, educators both Black and white, and students from HBCU’s.
Intentional or not, Frederick sets an example for other HBCU presidents. In the months ahead, other Black college administrators may have to decide whether to accept DeVos’ request to visit their schools. Do they accept? Do they refuse to pose with her for the cameras? Do they risk antagonizing DeVos – and the Trump administration — if they decline to host her?
DeVos has spent more than 30 years promoting charter schools, private school vouchers and replacements for public schools. Critics say DeVos will destabilize public schools by steering taxpayer funds to private schools.
Realizing the optics would make headlines, DeVos carefully orchestrated a photo where she was surrounded by Howard’s African-American administrators and students.
But here’s the question that some Black folks are in Washington, D.C. are asking this week: Was it prudent for Frederick and Howard University students to embrace DeVos, knowing she wants to undermine public schools that overwhelmingly serve Black students?
“Howard University is pleased that Betsy DeVos, the new Secretary of Education, chose to visit our institution as her first official campus visit,” Frederick said in a statement.
“Our conversation today was a very meaningful one and I welcome the opportunity to continue discussing the many ways we can work together,” he said.
It wasn’t clear what Frederick and DeVos discussed, but I hope they talked about the importance of federal Pell grants, which many students at the nation’s 105 historically Black colleges depend on to pay tuition.
HBCUs need government financial support and good relationships with federal education officials can be useful, but will DeVos be a champion for Black college students? The jury is out.
“It was a pleasure to meet with Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick and several student leaders this morning,” DeVos said. “We had a robust discussion around the many challenges facing higher education and the important role of HBCUs.”
I’m not sure how a “robust discussion” translates into providing our young people with quality education, but I do know this: DeVos’ visit to Howard University was no fluke.
DeVos had come off a rocky start to her tenure when protesters blocked her from entering Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago.
Several dozen members of the Washington Teachers Union, parents and other activists blocked DeVos at the front door of the school.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crowd shouted.
It wasn’t a good look and the Trump administration needed a quick fix: Enter Howard University.
DeVos has been critical of public schools and sponsored an education advocacy group — the Great Lakes Education Project – that lobbied successfully for legislation that removed the cap on the number of charter schools.
She was raised in Holland, Michigan, about a 3 hour drive from Detroit. Holland is 80 percent white and African-Americans make up about 4 percent of the population. She appears completely out of touch with public school students of color and a grinning photo-op at Howard University won’t change that.
Allyson Carpenter, President of the Howard University Student Association, told The Washington Post: “We don’t know if those are just photo-ops. We won’t know until we see the policy that comes out.”
Astute young lady.
What do you think?