UB Students Protest Commencement Speaker Betsy DeVos

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Above Photo: By Win McNamee/Getty Images

The university’s president says the speaker choice reflects the school’s goal to provide ‘intellectual engagement and an array of opinions.’

BALTIMORE, MD – Students at the University of Baltimore walked out of classes on Monday to protest the school’s selection of commencement speaker.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been invited to deliver the fall commencement address at the university.

UB President Kurt Schmoke announced the selection days ago and since then, a petition circulated online and a walkout drew students out of class in a show of protest.

More than 2,800 people have signed a Change.org petition in a show of opposition since the Sept. 8 announcement that DeVos would be the commencement speaker at the university, which has an enrollment of around 6,000. In addition to stating that they will not support the decision for the education secretary to speak at the school, those who signed the petition said they would not donate money to the school. “By signing this petition, we are putting the University of Baltimore on notice that no future or current alumni will donate any money to the university if they decide to keep this decision to bring her as the commencement speaker,” the petition states. “Invite her to a debate or something, literally any other event besides commencement – the one event that should be all about the students.”

Students last week were also protesting against DeVos at another campus, this time in Arlington, Virginia, where the education secretary announced plans to roll back Title IX guidelines regarding sexual assault.

Under the Obama administration guidelines, schools were told to use the lowest standard of proof, called “preponderance of the evidence,” in prosecuting sexual assault cases.

In an address at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School last week, DeVos said colleges must raise the burden of proof in order to protect the rights of both victims and those that they accuse because “the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students.”

Said DeVos: “Any perceived offense can become a full-blown Title IX investigation, but if everything is harassment, then nothing is harassment.” Her statement drew criticism for equating the harm done to falsely accused students with the suffering of assault survivors.

The University of Baltimore stood by its decision to invite DeVos to speak at the fall commencement, issuing this statement on Facebook:

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has accepted an invitation from the University of Baltimore to deliver a keynote address at this fall’s Commencement, scheduled for Dec. 18. Throughout our nearly 100-year history, UB has pursued a commitment to intellectual engagement and an array of opinions; this is a foundational goal at our institution and is today expressed in our invitation to the Secretary to speak to and get to know our community”