Spectators, Press Take Notice of Cavazos’ Low-Key Role at Summit

October 04, 1989 4 min read

Charlottesville, Va--The low-key role that Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos played at last week’s education summit provoked widespread speculation among spectators, gubernatorial aides, and the press corps about how long he will remain in office.

Mr. Cavazos moderated two of the conference’s six small discussion sessions and participated in a news briefing on the sessions Wednesday, as well as a news conference that kicked off the summit.

He also stood beside President Bush at center stage throughout the two-day gathering.

But his role at the summit’s major events, which featured remarks by Mr. Bush and key governors, was largely to introduce Mr. Bush. Most substantive comment on the summit’s progress came from the governors.

The Secretary was also conspicuously absent from a crucial set of meetings Wednesday night where White House officials and three governors negotiated the contents of the statement that is the chief tangible product of the summit.

The meetings included Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa, chairman of the National Governors’ Association, and Govs. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, who have spearheaded summit activity for the governors’ association.

Mr. Clinton said all negotia4tions on behalf of the White House were conducted by John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, and Roger B. Porter, Mr. Bush’s domestic-policy adviser.

Mr. Sununu and Mr. Porter were also the ones who negotiated the summit’s format with Mr. Clinton and Mr. Campbell the previous week. Aides in the Secretary’s office expressed frustration and anger the next day, admitting they did not know about the agreement until they read about it in The Washington Post.

“It’s kind of ironic,” said Jim Nathan, a third-year student at the University of Virginia. “They hold a summit about improving education and totally disrupt the university for two days.”

The university did not officially cancel classes for the duration, but professors were given the option of canceling individual sessions. And many students undoubtedly skipped more than a few classes in hopes of seeking a glimpse of the President.

Much of the central campus was closed to pedestrians, and “Do I have to walk all the way around?” was a common student complaint.

Scaffolding, wires, fences, and assorted other blockades were everywhere, trucks created ruts on playing fields, and guards were posted on rooftops.

“They made the Lawn look like Berlin,” one student commented, referring to one well-known campus landmark.

It did not compare to the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960’s, but about 100 uva students gathered in time for President Bush’s final remarks Thursday to protest various Administration policies.

They broadcast their message with signs and chants, some of them loud enough to make some speakers visibly nervous.

Themes included support for abortion rights and gay rights, opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America, and solidarity with students in China.

Students said black, gay, and women’s groups were heavily represented.

“We want to show that not everyone is pleased with the Administration,” Lawren Spera, a third-year art student, said.

According to the nga, 53 of 55 governors of states and territories registered to attend the summit. Only the governors of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands declined to make the trip to Charlottesville, an nga spokesman said.

Gov. Rudy Perpich, though registered to attend, missed the first day of summit meetings so he could participate in a special legislative session back home in Minnesota.

Although they were not invited to participate in the summit, Washington, D.C., officials said last week that they plan to work with the nation’s governors in implementing their school-reform plans.

The nation’s capital was left off the summit’s guest list because it is not an nga member. Although the District of Columbia has sought membership in the association, said Maudine Cooper, Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.'s chief of staff, it was refused because it does not have a governor.

Ms. Cooper noted that Rolin Sidwell, Mayor Barry’s education adviser, is scheduled to meet this week with governors’ education aides to discuss issues arising from the summit. Calling the proffered reason for Washington’s exclusion from the summit “a red herring,” she nonetheless used the occasion to urge an education campaign to promote statehood for the city.

Teachers were the toast of an elegant state dinner served to summit participants at Thomas Jefferson’s mansion, Monticello.

In a tent graced with an elaborate chandelier and floral-and-candle-lit centerpieces, President Bush raised his glass in honor of teachers.

“America’s teachers enlighten our young people,” he said, noting that 6 Cabinet members and 13 governors are former teachers. “I toast our teachers. Those who taught us and those who have sacrificed to teach our children. Without their vision and dedication, our dream would be lost.”

After last week’s summit, the man who challenged Mr. Bush for the Presidency might be wishing elections were decided by applause meters rather than polling booths.

Everywhere Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts went, people applauded.

At the opening session, governors took their seats at a leisurely pace and without much ado. But when Mr. Dukakis arrived and moved into view of the crowd, the auditorium erupted with applause.

And on Thursday, as the governors filed into University Hall for Mr. Bush’s convocation address, Mr. Dukakis again was greeted enthusiastically.

Said one nearby reporter: “I guess news travels slowly to Charlottesville.”

--jm, rrw, dc, dv, & rr

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A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 1989 edition of Education Week as Spectators, Press Take Notice of Cavazos’ Low-Key Role at Summit