With DeVos, Calley set to appear at research center opening Wednesday, MSU yet to make announcement
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will join U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and six other speakers at an opening ceremony for the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center Wednesday.
Geri Kelley, communications director for MSU's College of Human Medicine, confirmed Calley's attendance via email. MSU also sent invitations to Governor Rick Snyder and Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.
DeVos was invited June 14 and MSU received verbal confirmation of her attendance July 11, Kelley said. DeVos was invited not as a keynote speaker, but to join speaking dignitaries at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and deliver remarks on the value of research as a component of education.
Department chairs were also allowed to invite a leading researcher in their field to speak. These researchers will be three of the aforementioned speakers.
In an interview following the reporting of DeVos’ invitation, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said the university would be standing by the decision.
The decision to have DeVos speak appears to have been kept under wraps. Though officials have made statements to the media, MSU has not officially announced DeVos' invitation or appearance as of publication, despite the ceremony taking place Wednesday.
After she learned of the decision, Dr. Caryl Sortwell, associate chair of the Department of Translational Science and Molecular Medicine, crafted a petition to rescind DeVos' invitation.
“At first we thought it was a joke and we were stunned and finally once we realized it wasn’t a joke, frankly we were horrified," Sortwell said. “I imagine someone must have thought it was a good idea. That person is sorely mistaken.”
The DeVos family name carries a significant amount of weight in Grand Rapids and various family members have contributed to the shaping of the town. Richard and Helen DeVos, Betsy’s father and mother-in-law, donated $10 million to the construction of the center in May of this year.
"It has been Michigan State’s practice to include major donors and their families in celebratory events surrounding building milestones," Kelley said in an email. "Without public and private donations, we wouldn’t have state-of-the-art medical facilities."
The decision by MSU has drawn ire from students and faculty associated with the new building, as many see DeVos’ policies as education secretary as out of line with MSU’s goals and the ideals of higher publicly-funded education.
“I and specifically many of my colleagues have been intensely involved with every aspect about the planning of this part of the building, and to be left out of this decision no matter who was chosen is weird,” Sortwell said. “And then to have it be this antithesis of public education and science and decency, it’s horrible.”
A protest organized by those associated with the building has 160 people RSVP'd as 'going' on its Facebook event page as of 10:45 a.m.