An open letter to B-CU leadership

WILLIE J. BARBER
READER COMMENTARY

I am a 1977 graduate and supporter of Bethune-Cookman College (now University). My son is a 2009 graduate.

This letter is to notify you of my profound disappointment with the recent announcement that Bethune-Cookman University intends to recognize Florida Governor Rick Scott during the upcoming Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Awards Gala for his “leadership.”

A comparison
The startling decision not only begs the question of why, but just as important, on what merit? Let me begin with a quick comparison.

Mary McLeod Bethune, by whom our university founded, was a child of former slaves who rose from humble beginnings to become a world-renowned educator, civil and human rights leader, champion for women and young people.

Mr. Scott, too, rose from humble beginnings, but it is there the similarities end. He went on to found a for-profit hospital chain accused of fleecing the taxpayers, a governor whose drug testing company stood to handsomely profit from his executive order requiring welfare recipients and state employees to submit to unconstitutional drug testing, and whose second term has now been indelibly stamped by turning his back on healthcare for the working poor.

Targeted turnout
This is the man you tout as “providing affordable, high quality care to the community,” and “visions for efficiency and quality to all residents of Florida?” The man who targeted minority-voter turnout, who made it harder for ex-felons to regain their civil rights and rejoin democracy? The governor who routinely forgets diversity in his appointments to judgeships and other positions of power over Floridians?

Your news release also cites the governor’s “consistent support of higher education.” The only consistency shown by Gov. Scott in education – whether higher or lower – has been his lack of support for fully funding our schools and universities, including ours.

B-CU cut
Need I remind you of the $750,000 veto to Bethune-Cookman this year? Or his first year gutting funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Bethune-Cookman? Take a closer look at the cuts to Bright Futures scholarships under his watch – cuts which have an immediate impact on hardworking minority students’ access to college.

Finally, if you’re going to promote his job creation track record, please do our students a service by reminding them that the majority of jobs this governor has created are low-wage, low-benefit service sector ones – the kind from which a good education was supposed to spare you, but this governor’s policies have made harder to escape.

The Black lawmakers of Florida have worked tirelessly to overcome political biases to improve the quality of life for all Floridians. The news that Bethune-Cookman chose this governor as a stellar example of leadership is an abject slap in the face. This is the example you want to hold up to the students of Bethune-Cookman University as a leader to follow?

‘Powerful potential’
In her Last Will and Testament, Mary McLeod Bethune wrote of our responsibility to the young: “Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world,” she wrote. “They must not be discouraged from aspiring toward greatness, for they are to be the leaders of tomorrow. Nor must they forget that the masses of our people are still underprivileged, ill-housed, impoverished and victimized by discrimination.  We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”

Gov. Scott forgot about the masses the moment he stepped out of public housing, and his power of change has rarely been directed toward good ends. Honoring the legacy of our founder deserves better than the selection you’ve made. I strongly urge you to reconsider.

Willie J. Barber is a life member of the National Alumni Association of Bethune-Cookman University.  He graduated with the Class of 1977.

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