GOP senator disinvited from speaking at historically black university

Sen. John Cornyn will no longer be the keynote speaker at Texas Southern University's commencement.

Story highlights

  • Spokeswoman: Sen. John Cornyn "respects" Texas Southern University's decision
  • More than 850 people sign Change.org petition in "stark opposition" to his speech

(CNN)Officials at a historically black university in Texas on Friday canceled a planned speech by Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the face of "stark opposition" from students to the talk.

Texas Southern University in Houston had scheduled Cornyn to be the keynote speaker for commencement Saturday morning. But the school said the plan was reversed Friday morning.
"We asked Senator Cornyn to instead visit with our students again at a future date in order to keep the focus on graduates and their families," the school said in a statement. "We, along with Senator Cornyn, agree that the primary focus of commencement should be a celebration of academic achievement."
    Two Democratic US representatives, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, are still expected to speak at the commencement program, the school said.
    The decision comes two days after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos faced jeers and boos while giving a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university in Florida.
    Cornyn's speech had been the focus of a Change.org petition signed by more 850 people that criticized what it called the "discriminatory policies" of the senator from Texas, including votes to approve Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DeVos, his vote for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and his vote against federal funds for so-called sanctuary cities.
    "Having a politician such as him speak at our institution is an insult to the students, to TSU, and to all HBCUs," the petition, written by Rebecca Trevino, reads. "This is our graduation. We have the right to decide if we want to refuse to sit and listen to the words of a politician who chooses to use his political power in ways that continually harm marginalized and oppressed people."
    A spokeswoman for Cornyn said the senator "respects" the school's decision.
    "Sen. Cornyn was honored to be invited to address TSU's graduates, but he respects the administration's decision and looks forward to continuing to engage with the university in the future," the spokeswoman said.
    Texas Southern University was founded in 1927 after the Houston public school board agreed to fund a junior college for whites and a separate one for African-Americans, according to the school.