SUGAR GROVE – Waubonsee Community College has come under fire for not publicizing in advance about a high-profile visit with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The Sept. 16 event consisted of a roundtable discussion with students, faculty members and industry partners to give DeVos the opportunity to learn more about career and technology education programs in automotive technology, manufacturing and heating ventilation and air conditioning.
Representatives for the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education reached out to the college about hosting a visit about a week ahead of time, officials said.
“In this particular case, this particular event was both coordinated and scheduled through the U.S. Department of Education, so we followed their recommendation for both media and logistics,” said Amanda Geist, executive director of marketing and communications for the college.
She said it’s tough to say if the college typically submits to the recommendations of other agencies or the arms of federal bodies of government with regard to publicizing in advance about high-profile events.
However, the students and faculty members involved in the event were notified ahead of time, officials said.
“[DeVos] was really interested in learning more about how community colleges are ensuring graduates have the skills they need in order to get those in-demand jobs related to career and technical education,” Geist said.
She also said DeVos wanted to learn more about how Waubonsee officials are removing barriers between college and industry. Since the event, the college has taken to social media to publicize its visit with the U.S. Secretary of Education.
DeVos’ appearance at the college took place the same day she visited Jefferson High School in Rockford.
The way the U.S. Secretary of Education was received at the two stops in Illinois differs.
Protests emerged in the wake of people learning of DeVos’ scheduled appearance in Rockford. While no demonstrations were staged in Sugar Grove, the college’s Facebook post publicizing the visit generated a number of reactions from followers.
The issue also surfaced as a topic during the public comment section of the college’s Sept. 18 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
Jose Rodriguez, the public relations coordinator for the college’s student organization known as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA), spoke on behalf of the group, expressing concern with Waubonsee’s decision to host the event without publicizing it in advance. He said the group denounces DeVos’ visit.
“As students, we are aware of the negative decisions that Betsy DeVos has taken against public education in the United States,” Rodriguez said. “A large number of our students at Waubonsee come from public educational institutions—the same institutions that Betsy DeVos has cut funding for.”
It remains unclear why representatives for the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education would provide a recommendation disallowing the advance publicizing of a visit to one school but not the other.
“Silencing and keeping this visitation private is a dangerous statement to the entire student body, especially in this political climate,” Rodriguez said. “When the institution decided to stay quiet, the message to the college community was clear.”
Rodriguez asked the college to address several key points moving forward. He wants Waubonsee to renounce the visitation, acknowledge the interests of the students and the community, and maintain the same level of effort extended to accommodate DeVos to support marginalized students with the safety and access to education for all students in mind.