Bethune Cookman University will award Gov. Rick Scott its highest honor when it bestows the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award to Florida’s 45th governor at the HBCU’s annual Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Award Gala on Oct. 21.

That is, if a letter-writing campaign to dissuade the Board of Trustees from awarding Scott the Legacy Award is ineffective. 

According to the Daytona based institution’s website, “His focus is to create jobs to turn the state’s economy around.  Scott has shown consistent support of higher education and has also developed a reputation for providing affordable, high quality care to the community. As Governor, he brings visions for efficiency and quality to all residents of Florida.”

Willie Barber, a BCU graduate of 1977 and life member of its national alumni association, disagrees. Barber wrote a letter to the university’s president, Edison O. Jackson, and the chairman of its board of trustees, Joe Petrock, that describes his disappointment and why he thinks the decision to honor Scott is wrong.

“Let me begin with a quick comparison. Mary McLeod Bethune, by whom our university (was) 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,” Barber wrote in the letter (see page 4A).

Barber also took issue with the board’s rationale for choosing to honor Scott.

“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?”

Taking a more diplomatic approach, Sumner Hutcheson, a former BCU vice president said, “One’s view of the world is always from where you sit. I understand that there are people who are concerned about that. In terms of politically, observing this governor, I can certainly understand that people don’t see him being very supportive of the black community.” He added, “However, I do know, the school gets a significant amount of money from the State of Florida. Overall, they did very well with the state. He has a good relationship with the president.”

“I believe that sometimes you have to do things for lots of different reasons that don’t always appear to the public. It would not have been my decision, but sometimes you have to trust the president and the cabinet and the board to make those kinds, and if they think that honoring Scott is going to be positive for the school, then I trust their decisions,” said Hutcheson, a 1975 BCU graduate.

Other alumni see the decision as a ploy by Scott to use in a future political run.

“The choice to award the governor with the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Leadership Award comes after the institution was awarded $4.5 million from the legislature for student tuition assistance. Political interest of the President and board of trustees shouldn’t come before the best interest of the students. That the governor has paid the school for an award that he can later tout in a possible run in another political (campaign) is absurd,” said Jasmine Burney, class of 2009. “Bethune-Cookman University has willingly signed up to be used as pawn in this political game.”

Fedrick Ingram is a 1996 graduate of BCU who currently serves as the president of the United Teachers of Dade. Ingram said that he is appalled by the decision.

“As an alumnus and a person who leads in the spirit of Mary McLeod Bethune as it relates to education, as it relates to black people, I think that it’s disappointing that leaders at BCU would think that by some stretch of the imagination that this governor has been a friend to minorities, public sector workers, alumnus of the college and the college itself. He has not,” Ingram said. 

“I’m a little dismayed that Gov. Rick Scott is getting an award from a school that represents largely African-American students; a majority of those students work in education. (Scott) has not been a friend to K-12, higher education, public or private. It’s a sad day for alumnus to look up and see that our university is giving an honor of some type to Rick Scott,” said Ingram, who also wrote a letter to the president and board chair. Ingram said that he has not received a response.

The South Florida Times contacted the school’s director of communications and was instructed to submit requests for comments in writing. The paper inquired via email whether the selection process required that Scott be nominated by a board member, and if so, which board member nominated the governor. The newspaper also requested to obtain the vote tally to determine which board members voted for and which voted against Scott receiving the award.

The communications department has not responded to the newspaper’s requests.

Ingram said that the school’s administration’s decision to honor Scott is wrong.

“Somebody, somewhere, and it is in the leadership. I don’t know if it lands with the president, or the board of trustees, or the chair of the board, but somebody has made a very bad mistake for the university,” he said.