AVE MARIA, Fla. (AP) - A group of alumni from a conservative Catholic university wants the Florida school to rescind an invitation to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to speak at the school's graduation, citing rollbacks she has made to programs aimed at protecting civil rights and the disabled.
The Naples Daily News reported Sunday that 36 graduates of Ave Maria University are protesting the secretary's scheduled speech at the May 5 ceremony where 250 students will receive diplomas.
University President Jim Towey said no current students have complained about DeVos' appearance and he will not rescind the invitation. Towey said he supports DeVos's positions. Towey served as President George W. Bush's office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
The protesters oppose DeVos' revisions to regulations governing how schools deal with people with disabilities and her cuts to the Education Department's civil rights office, saying her appearance "casts the University in a pointedly partisan light."
"A liberal arts institution, especially one of a Catholic character, must be free of political indoctrination to be the proper marketplace of ideas for its members," the letter reads. Furthermore, the alumni wrote, "Mrs. DeVos's policies are callous and unjust towards marginalized persons."
"Jesus identified with marginalized people. We should give love and compassion to those people," said Matthew Barry, a Sarasota attorney who helped write the letter. "We just want to be able to say she doesn't represent us."
Towey told the paper that DeVos has shown a commitment to the poor by advocating for voucher programs and school choice.
"You may disagree with her approach, but I think she sincerely holds these views," he said.
Ave Maria University was founded in 2003 by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. It has about 1,100 students. It is part of the town of Ave Maria, which Monaghan started in 2005.
Information from: Naples (Fla.) Daily News, http://www.naplesnews.com