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Indulge your schadenfreude: Betsy DeVos’ 20-minute education speech savaged by boos


U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos delivered a commencement speech to a loud chorus of boos on Wednesday. Her speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university, faced boos, calls to “shut up” and students turning their #BackstoBetsy.

The audience had the stamina to jeer through the entirety of her 20-minute speech, during which she was introduced and given an honorary degree.

Her speech was part of the Trump administration’s effort to reach out to black students, but many students felt that she was a poor choice for the speech. Their dissent was incredibly loud, but the inaction of the scholars behind Devos also spoke volumes.

Prior to the speech, online petitions opposing Devos’ speech collected around 60,000 signatures according to CNN.

A handful of protestors from the state’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also turned up to protest, along with members of a local teachers’ union.

Devos probably sensed the savaging to come and opened by telling the crowd:

While we will undoubtedly disagree at times I hope we can do so respectfully. Let’s choose to hear one another out. I want to reaffirm this administration’s commitment to and support for (historically black colleges and universities) and the students they serve.

After the booing began, university President Edison Jackson – who approved her selection – warned the students “If this behaviour continues, we can mail the degree to you”. At least one demonstrator was removed from the event.

Predictably, money was behind the selection of Devos as speaker.

“We have always been in the business of making friends, and if you don’t have friends, it’s very difficult to raise money,” Jackson said during a news conference before the ceremony. “Her department controls roughly 80% of Title IV monies, as well as grants. So why wouldn’t we want to make friends?”

The only problem was no one else wanted to make friends.

It’s very hard to feel sorry for Devos. Although Trump called her a “brilliant and passionate education advocate”, she had a disastrous confirmation hearing in January.

Critics attacked her lack of experience, possible conflicts of interest (she’s a billionaire Republican donor) and downright ignorant answers to questions.

When asked by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who represents Connecticut (where the Sandy Hook massacre took place) asked if guns had a place in schools, Devos said that it should be determined at state level.

After being further pressed to give a definitive answer, she referred to an earlier remark by Republican Senator Mike Enzi, who had mentioned that an elementary school in his state of Wyoming had erected a fence to protect children from wildlife.

“I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies,” DeVos said.

Devos is already no stranger to a good shellacking. Democratic Senator of Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren also mercilessly – yet politely- smashed Devos during the hearing.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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