University of Baltimore students headed to lunch through Gordon Plaza were confronted with the sight of students holding signs and chanting protest slogans. The cause was the University of Baltimore’s invitation to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to serve as the keynote speaker at the Fall Commencement Ceremony. Students and public figures pushed the University of Baltimore to uninvite Secretary DeVos to the campus.
University president Kurt Schmoke, the former Democratic Baltimore mayor, disagreed, however.
“My bottom line conclusion is the university stands for debate on controversial issues. I do feel that having the U.S. Secretary of Education on our campus is something that’s very important for the university, and in the long run, I believe that students will recognize that whether they agree with her position on issues or not,” said Schmoke.
Critics of Schmoke and his decision believe that DeVos does not represent the values of students at the University of Baltimore.
I, however, a student at the University of Baltimore, agree with President Schmoke and his decision to invite DeVos. President Schmoke’s decision is not simply right, but also provides a necessary lesson. Students expecting to function in a free and democratic must learn to not only respect dissenting viewpoints and not isolate those who disagree with them.
Many students argue that Secretary DeVos does not represent the values of the University of Baltimore. Betsy DeVos is no different than the numerous public servants in this country who have sacrificed their lives, personal and professional, to lead vital government agencies. Love her or hate her, Betsy DeVos is not a public figure with a flair for the provocative such as Ann Coulter or even Milo Yiannopoulos; she is simply a woman who has exhibited passion for education and creativity in education throughout her entire career — so much so that a president found her worthy enough to lead a government agency focused on education.
Even if many disagree with her on policy, how do we reach a point in our discourse where the Secretary of Education is a controversial commencement speaker at a publicly funded university?
So often, we focus on institutions stifling free speech when the answer lies in the individual. People, young and old, have become far more concerned with feelings rather than hard facts. A generation concerned about feelings more than facts will be the generation responsible for their own demise.
The solution for our generation is anything but easy and comfortable. The solution involves courageous leaders such as President Schmoke and countless administrators, professors, and students across the country committing themselves to a free exchange of ideas and intellectual diversity. Hopefully, they can be empowered to act swiftly before it’s too late.
Leonard Robinson is a student at the University of Baltimore and serves on the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee.