Ed School Students, Alumni Protest Convocation Speaker

UPDATED: May 21, 2014, at 5:10 p.m.

Over 100 students and alumni, as well as two faculty members, at the Graduate School of Education signed a petition to rescind the invitation to Colorado State Senator Michael C. Johnston to address graduating students at the school’s 2014 convocation ceremony on May 28.

According to the online statement of protest, Johnston—who received a master’s degree from the Ed School in 2000—”embraces a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers.”

“We feel that the choice of Mike Johnston is emblematic of an institutional direction at HGSE [Graduate School of Education] that seems to value the voices of policymakers and researchers over those of teachers, students, and community members, which we find extremely troublesome,” the statement said.

A former teacher and principal, Johnston currently serves on the board of directors of New Leaders, a non-profit organization aimed at improving leadership at schools. As a state legislator, he helped spearhead SB 10-191, a Colorado law that mandates that 50 percent of an educator’s annual evaluation be based on a measure of student learning over time.

In an interview with The Crimson, Johnston said he intended to speak at the convocation ceremony despite the protest.

“I was honored to be invited to be the [convocation] speaker, and I’m even more excited to keep that commitment,” Johnston said. “I certainly plan to come and am looking forward to the conversation.”

Johnston also said that he plans to host an open forum before the ceremony to discuss his policies. He said he looks forward to talking to some of the students and alumni who disagree with his stance on certain education-related topics.

“For me, this whole process makes me more excited to come back to campus, not less excited. I think it reminds me of the great exchange of ideas that happen at Harvard, and that’s why people want to be there and that’s why I’m looking forward to coming back,” Johnston said.

Dean of the School of Education James E. Ryan released a statement Monday saying he would continue to support the choice of Johnston as convocation speaker.

“I do not believe that disagreement with some positions taken by a speaker is reason to rescind an invitation,” Ryan said. “To the contrary, it is precisely because there is debate about his positions that we should welcome the opportunity to hear from him.”

“I remain honored that Senator Johnston has accepted our invitation to speak,” he added.

In his letter, Ryan also said that inviting Johnston to speak does not necessarily imply institutional support of his policies.

Natalia V. Cuadra-Saez, a student at the School of Education who was involved in drafting and gathering signatures for the online petition, said that though the movement against Johnston’s speech may not be successful, she hopes that it will help to create more transparency in the process of choosing convocation speakers.

“Our interest is really in starting the conversation that has been started and in raising awareness about Michael Johnston and his record in education and the problems with that record, so our interest is definitely not in ruining anyone’s commencement or convocation,” Cuadra-Saez said.

—Staff writer Forrest K. Lewis can be reached at forrest.lewis@thecrimson.com.

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