Harvard University is joining the list of schools (which include Brandeis, Smith, Haverford, and Rutgers) that are giving the proposed keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony the “brownshirt” treatment.

Over 100 students, alumni, and faculty 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.

…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.

Update below by Aleister on 5/27/14.

We have been informed that while the students at the Graduate School of Education tried to ban the speaker, the adults said no…

Dean Ryan’s Letter to the Community

Dear Friends,

I am excited about the upcoming graduation ceremonies, as I know all of you are. In particular, I look forward to celebrating the achievements of our graduates, to honoring our outstanding faculty, to recognizing some of our amazing alumni, and to thanking our incredibly dedicated staff. I am excited to hear from our student speaker, Krista Sergi, Ed.M.’14, and from our faculty speaker, Professor Karen Mapp, Ed.M.’93, Ed.D.’99, who was selected by the graduating students.

I am also looking forward to hearing from our convocation speaker, Mike Johnston, Ed.M.’00, who is an alumnus of our school, a former teacher and principal, and currently a state senator in Colorado. I know that many of you are equally eager to hear him speak, as students have routinely suggested that we invite him to campus, and he has generously accepted many invitations in the past. In fact, he was on campus just last fall, both to guest lecture in Professor Kay Merseth’s class and to participate in an open conversation in Askwith Hall, entitled: “Can We Have Both Excellence and Equity for All Children?”

I also know that a few of you are disappointed by the selection of Senator Johnston as a speaker. Some have suggested that we rescind his invitation to speak because of some of the positions he has taken as a legislator, though this group notes that they applaud other policies Senator Johnston has championed. Suggestions have also been made to create a more transparent and inclusive process for “vetting” speakers and to create more opportunities for discussion and debate of various visions of education reform. I would like to address each point in turn.

First, I respect those who disagree with some of Senator Johnston’s positions, and I appreciate and admire their willingness to voice their opinions. But I do not believe that disagreement with some positions taken by a speaker is reason to rescind an invitation. To the contrary, it is precisely because there is debate about his positions that we should welcome the opportunity to hear from him.