Our Editorial: Intolerance on display at MSU

The Detroit News

The bad behavior that’s become common on campuses isn’t just the fault of students. All too often members of the faculty are behind the intolerance, instigating movements to block speakers and events that counter their (usually liberal) point of view. Michigan’s public universities are no different.

Case in point: A faculty member at Michigan State University tried to prevent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from speaking briefly at the grand opening today of the university’s Grand Rapids Research Center. Anyone who has spent time in Grand Rapids would catch the irony. The DeVos family has invested millions in the city they call home, and their name is synonymous with Grand Rapids’ rebirth.

And DeVos’ in-laws gave $10 million to the new MSU research facility that will benefit students and faculty, regardless of their political persuasion. The $88 million research center will support laboratories and 44 researchers working on an array of human health research, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

That didn’t deter Caryl Sortwell, a professor of translational science and molecular medicine, from starting a Change.org petition demanding university officials rescind their invitation to DeVos. A few days prior to DeVos’ appearance, the online petition had received more than 3,500 signatures.

“People are horrified,” Sortwell told The Detroit News.

Sortwell’s concerns with DeVos?

■“Lobbying for the privatization of the U.S. public education system under the guise of ‘school choice.’ ”

■“Support for political candidates in Michigan who worked to implement her privatization plans and in the process, have slashed millions from the public education budget.”

■“Support for cutting financial aid to low-income college students making it easier for private loan servicers to prey on Michigan families.”

■“Refusing to limit federal education funding for schools who actively discriminate against LGBTQ students.”

“The undersigned believe that Secretary DeVos’ agenda is diametrically opposed to the education and inclusion mission of Michigan State University,” the petition reads.

Sortwell also claims she was worried that planned protests would “disrupt the GRRC Ribbon Cutting and distract media focus away from the celebration of MSU’s newest state-of-the-art research facility in Grand Rapids.”

If that was her concern, then starting a petition to fuel such protests seems an odd approach. And given the importance of the DeVos family-funded Grand Rapids center to MSU, the protest initiated by a professor on the school’s payroll seems somewhat subversive of her employer’s mission.

Students have joined the protest, too, according to comments on the petition.

MSU spokesman Jason Cody says he’s not concerned about disruptions at the event. But the university will have appropriate security measures in place.

DeVos already has to travel with U.S. Marshals, given the number of threats she receives.

“There are several speakers on tap. To be clear, she will be there and make remarks, but this is a building dedication, not a speech by a sitting secretary,” Cody says.

We hope the grand opening in Grand Rapids this morning takes place without incident and uproar. We’d also like to see faculty at taxpayer-supported institutions teach their students to respect a diversity of ideas.