CHARLESTON, W.VA., DEC. 15 -- In his last public act as education secretary, Lauro F. Cavazos today gave a college commencement address on the importance of cultural diversity, but made no remarks about his forced resignation from the Cabinet, which took effect at the end of the day.
Nor did Cavazos comment in his 15-minute speech to West Virginia State College graduates on a controversial Education Department decision Wednesday that prohibits most colleges from awarding scholarships to students on the basis of their race or ethnic background.
Cavazos, who as the first Hispanic Cabinet official often emphasized the need for equal educational opportunities, would reply only "You know them" when a reporter asked about his convictions on the minority scholarship issue.
Cavazos made that comment as he left the municipal auditorium, where he had spoken to an audience of about 2,500 in his first public appearance since his resignation Wednesday. He had advised about 300 midyear graduates of West Virginia State, which was founded a century ago as a segregated black college but has been predominantly white for three decades, to follow the courage of their convictions.
The former president of Texas Tech University said he has made no plans for his future and did not know "just yet" whether he would return to the state university in Lubbock, where he retains tenure as a medical school professor. A Texas Tech spokesman on Friday said Cavazos, 63, is on a leave of absence that extends through next September and had not yet contacted the university about whether he intends to return.
Asked why he resigned the education post, Cavazos told the Associated Press, "I'm not talking." He did not respond when asked whether he resigned because White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu demanded he do so.
Before his speech, Cavazos read a letter of greeting from President Bush, who wrote that a good education must "be accessible to every citizen" for the nation to prosper. It was a theme Cavazos, education secretary for two years and three months, expounded.
"Our failure to meet the educational needs of many minority students in the early grades is reflected in low minority enrollment, retention and completion rates for our colleges and universities," he said.
The solution to that and other "truly unprecedented" challenges presented by a growing minority population "will not come through legislation or regulation . . . but in the hearts and minds of men and women," he said.