Laura W. Bush, Plenary Speaker at NAFSA 2018. Say What?!?


I’m still shaking my head in disbelief, wondering why NAFSA:  Association of International Educators chose Laura Bush as a plenary speaker for its 2018 annual conference in Philadelphia, PA, USA.  What does she have to offer international educators who attend these speeches to learn something, gain a new insight or two, be inspired?  Here’s her bio on NAFSA’s website:

Laura W. Bush, former first lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and human rights.

laura_bush_150x200As first lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the need for preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development in 2001 and creating the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

What’s not to like about supporting “literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and foster healthy families and communities”?  What, pray tell, does that have to do with the work of international educators?  

What’s not to like about human rights, which her husband and his administration trampled on, both in the US and in other countries, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq, during their disastrous eight-year rule?  While I don’t hold Ms. Bush responsible for the sins of her husband and that cabal of neocons, there is a certain distasteful dishonor by association and hypocrisy at work here.

It’s not Laura Bush’s fault that she’s speaking at this international education conference.  It is NAFSA, after all, that invited her.  Let’s assign blame where blame is due.  What were the powers that be at NAFSA thinking?  Wasn’t there anyone else (and better) from whom the audience could actually learn something new, gain a new insight, or be inspired?

Here’s a spot-on analysis from one colleague who shares my disgust and disappointment at this choice and the organization that is behind it: 

I think the aspect I most dislike is how these niceties normalize war and US led-violence. There will be thousands of attendees sitting in respectful attention, listening to tired platitudes, and leaving with a saccharine feeling about what a genteel lady Laura Bush is.  I remember when a NAFSA attendee confronted Colin Powell during his plenary speech about his role in BSing the US into the Iraq invasion. It was great stuff.  But too confrontational for NAFSA.  So fast forward to today and, if I’m not mistaken, NO live questions will be allowed of Laura B.  Gotta keep it sanitized!


I wonder how much it will cost to have Ms. Bush tell thousands of international educators what a great job they’re doing and how important their work is? The Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Laura Bush,  describes her as one of the most popular first ladies in history and a compelling advocate for issues of national and global concern.  Seriously?

While I’m not going to hold my breath that this will actually happen, here’s something for NAFSA to think about for future conferences.  Since this is a professional association that relies on membership dues and conference fees for its fiscal survival, why doesn’t it put these speakers to a vote rather than making these decision behind closed doors, or at least make a concerted effort to seek member input?

A colleague asked me if I was planning to attend this plenary session or if could meet with her during that time.  You can guess what my response was.  My hope is that 50 people show up.  A guy can dream, can’t he? 

Postscript: One of my sources told me that the “conversation” was about the Bush family.  My neck is getting tired.  Still shaking my head in disbelief.

Who’s next for NAFSA 2019, First Lady Melania Trump, Betsy “Amway” DeVos, Secretary of Education, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary? 

Peace, MAA

Bonus:  Here’s a radio commentary I did in 2004 in response to a speech at that year’s NAFSA annual conference in which the speaker, a Bush/Cheney political appointee, said that one can no longer claim to “hate this government’s policies but love the country.”  In other words, government and country are one in the eyes of a US nationalist aka neocon.  For some reason this went over most colleagues’ heads.  Can you guess who the speaker was?  Hint:  He used to work for IIE.  Yes.  Really.