Washington — Dr. Lauro F. Cavazos assumed his self-described role as this country’s leading advocate for education reform when he was sworn in Tuesday as the U.S. Secretary of Education.
The 61-year old president of Texas Tech University becomes the first Hispanic to serve in the Cabinet.
Ironically, Cavazos succeeds a man many consider his antithesis, William J. Bennett, who has advocated the elimination of the Department of Education. Bennett also became renowned for his confrontations with Congress over the federal government’s role in education. But Cavazos has been cited by congressional officials as a builder of consensus and has expressed strong support of the federal role in education.
As his wife, Peggy, and the 10 children looked on, Cavazos told the dignitaries gathered at the White House ceremony that the “work ahead for us (in education) is truly enormous.”
“We must awaken America to a renewed commitment to education. We must all of us work together. We must care for every person, the highly motivated, achieving child; the undereducated; the dropout; the illiterate; and the handicapped.
“All persons, majority and minority, must reach their fullest level of potential of education as they will become in turn responsible citizens, and in this manner, will contribute to a better America.”
President Reagan said Cavazos already has made a mark among American educators.
“With his scholarship and his work in academic administration, through his membership in innumerable national, inter-American and international organizations, and by his participation in the movement for school reform where it counts — on the grassroots levels — Larry Cavazos has already made a major contribution to American education,” Reagan said.
“He brings to his post a record for solid accomplishment that promises even bigger contributions in the future:”
Cavazos, Reagan continued, “is a sterling example of the magnificent contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to our life. But I know his service in the Cabinet will speak to all Americans, from every background and every circumstance, of the real hope and opportunity that education always provided.”
The president said that those in education who work to provide opportunities for all “could not have a finer colleague, advocate and spokesman in Larry Cavazos, whose own life and career pay tribute to the unending possibilities of education. …”
Cavazos was born the son of a foreman on South Texas’ King Ranch. He served in the U.S. Army before graduating from Texas Tech with a bachelor of arts degree in 1949 and a master of arts degree in 1951. He received his doctorate from Iowa State University in 1954.
He taught for 10 years at the Medical College of Virginia, then moved to Boston where he was eventually named the dean of Tufts Medical School. In 1980, he became the first Hispanic and Texas Tech graduate to be named president of Tech and its Health Sciences Center. The university has more than 24, 000 students and employed more than 8,500 people.
In addition to being a professor of anatomy and biological sciences at Texas Tech, Cavazos chaired the Dropout Task Force for the Lubbock Independent School District.
During confirmation hearings before the Senate Labor and Human Resource Committee earlier this month, Cavazos revealed that he had been asked three times by Reagan’s presidential transition team in 1980 to serve education secretary — an offer he declined in deference to his then-recent commitment to Texas Tech.
His tenure as education secretary will last only through Reagan’s remaining months in office, though a spokesman with the Bush campaign did not rule out the possibility of Cavazos being carried over in the event Bush wins the presidency.