Look, I have a sound 10th grade education – my final two-years of high school are a blur of beer and bad decisions. But I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the Volusia County School District’s sophomore curriculum circa 1975.
I don’t presume to have the intelligence, insight or intellectual creativity that comes with a college education – and I never enjoyed the stamp of professional competence that a degree naturally, and universally, implies.
During my law enforcement service, I was a Mustang. I came up through the ranks, basically riding on a smile and a shoeshine, and ultimately took command of the agency that hired me as a 22-year old uneducated nitwit.
Truth be told, I often felt inferior to my peers who earned the requisite academic title prior to promotion.
Although I had amassed an impressive portfolio of in-service training and practical experience, because I never felt equal, I often kept my suggestions to myself and rarely engaged in policy matters or other discussions I felt were “above my pay-grade.”
Then, in 1990, I applied for acceptance to the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.
At that time, I was a patrol sergeant in a small department – and no one in the history of the agency before me had ever applied. Everyone thought that a small agency like ours could never compete for a spot with “major city” departments.
After all, less than one-half of one-percent of officers around the globe are invited to participate in the world’s premiere law enforcement leadership training program.
Six years later, while serving as a supervisor in the detective division, I received a letter from the FBI’s Jacksonville Field Office requesting a meeting to discuss my potential acceptance to the 187th Session.
I was overjoyed – so full of pride and gratitude! And I think my chief and co-workers were as elated as I was.
It proved, in some small way, that we measured up. All of us.
After an extensive federal background clearance, physical examinations, interviews, and the difficult loss of the 40-pounds required to meet the stringent height/weight standards – on September 29, 1996, I joined the best-of-the-best in Quantico.
During the next three-months, I lived in a cramped dormitory room with a Sheriff’s Captain from Rutherford County, Tennessee. We shared a common bathroom with an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a police lieutenant from Texas.
Across the hallway was a police chief from a suburb of Chicago, and his roommate, the head of the federal kidnapping task force for the Philippine National Police.
The first friends I made were a weapons trafficking expert from the Republic of Macedonia and an elected sheriff from Minnesota.
During this wonderful experience, I had the opportunity to discuss modern policing issues in an environment that encouraged open and honest discussion.
We studied controversial legal decisions, discussed civil rights legislation and consent decrees, and learned from international students how the rule of law and investigative techniques differ in other cultures and countries.
To avoid the subliminal intimidation that can come with the use of rank and titles in quasi-military organizations, everyone was addressed by their first name – and over beers in the evening a sergeant from a 30-person department in the deep south might learn that his new friend is the head of a major international police counterintelligence agency – or the chief of a department with over 7,000 employees and a $1.5 billion-dollar budget.
We were friends, equals and colleagues – and while we didn’t always agree – we learned from each other – and about each other – and our unique life experiences.
The FBI National Academy was the closest thing to “higher education” I will ever experience. And it gave me confidence, proved my contribution potential, and taught the importance of honest dialog in understanding the views, intellectual perspectives and values of dissimilar people and societies.
While I may not have an advanced degree, I do understand the importance of exposing oneself to diverse social opinions and political positions as a means of rounding out an informed point-of-view.
Perhaps this explains why I felt so disappointed by the backlash to Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson’s important decision to invite U. S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to speak at the universities spring commencement exercises.
I was under the impression that a college campus was the last bastion of free speech, a place for freedom of thought and the civil debate of competing ideas?
When did that change in this country?
Given the number of speakers who are being “disinvited” or outrighted banned from colleges and universities around the nation, it is increasingly clear that the right to free speech and open expression – and a well-rounded education – only exists for some.
Now, the Florida conference of the NAACP is calling for Dr. Jackson’s removal.
How incredibly sad. And shortsighted.
Imagine an entire generation of our nation’s future leaders who lack the basic skills to successfully resolve interpersonal and situational conflict because college administrators feared that developing those aptitudes might offend the students delicate sense of self-esteem?
I don’t believe that every speaking engagement requires a time for open rebuttal and angry refutation. Sometimes it’s merely an opportunity to simply listen, contemplate the message, then either accept the information into your knowledge base – or dismiss the views out-of-hand.
Your choice – but only if you are given the opportunity.
And sometimes a boring speech is simply something one must endure as a ceremonial formality of accepting your sheepskin.
In my view, B-CU students deserve the opportunity to hear and ponder the thoughts of influential decision-makers, academics, contrarians, politicians, activists and others with diverse views on the issues of the day – even those they don’t necessarily agree with.
Especially when the speaker holds a cabinet-level position in a new administration – and the purse strings for institutions of higher learning, including historically black colleges.
Without listening to competing ideas, how else does one learn the fine art of discussing and settling political and social differences in a civil and constructive way?
How else does one learn to collaborate, research, develop solutions and work shoulder-to-shoulder with others in a diverse professional environment?
I applaud Dr. Jackson’s decision to invite U. S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as the 2017 spring commencement speaker.
As Dr. Jackson said, “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, our venerable founder, did all that she could during the nascent stages of this institution to equip her students with the necessary skills to navigate the precarious waters of fundamental disagreement.”
In my view, Dr. Jackson has demonstrated incredible courage in remaining true to Dr. Bethune’s legacy.