Betsy DeVos has been receiving a lot of attention recently for her nomination to be the Secretary of Education. For the most part, it seems partisan reflexes have taken over the discussion. Republicans can find no fault in her, while Democrats are finding only fault in her.
The reality, as usual, is much more complicated. Starting with the Democratic position, one of the critiques of DeVos is, frankly, that she holds traditional Christian views and donates to organizations, such as Focus on the Family, that also hold them. I don’t universally agree with Focus on the Family, but I do believe they do a lot of good work promoting healthy marriages in the Christian community, and they are certainly not the bogeyman Dems are making them out to be. It is bad for our political discourse when we have to throw out everyone who supports religious-based initiatives from contributing in the public square.
Additionally, DeVos has been taking a lot of heat for her positions on education reform. She holds mostly pro-reform positions on issues such as charter schools, school choice, and the localization of the school system. All of these are fairly typical Republican positions that have evidence in their favor. To treat all of these ideas as heinous and unimaginable for any reasonable person to hold is disingenuous.
That said, we need to break down the Republican idea that DeVos is the perfect nominee. First, there is the issue of her qualifications. Unlike some, I don’t believe one necessarily needs to have had public school experience to be the Secretary of Education. That said, I do think we as a country undervalue experience and expertise as an asset, particularly in government. A particularly concerning matter relevant to DeVos is that she seemed to lack a grasp of basic issues related to testing, curriculum, and other education-related issues in her hearing. To head a branch of the federal government, we should want someone who has a firm grasp of the relevant issues in said department and who has a plan for how to act on them. DeVos gave little confidence in her hearing that she meets these criteria.
Additionally, we should be discouraged by DeVos receiving the nomination as it relates to her donor history. I rarely agree with Senator Bernie Sanders, but he makes a valid point when he asks if DeVos would be in this position if she had not donated so much to Republicans in the past. That’s not to say political donations should disqualify someone from heading a federal department, but that they shouldn’t be a primary reason someone receives the opportunity. Combined with DeVos’ lack of experience, it’s hard to say that her political giving is entirely irrelevant here, and that’s not something worth encouraging in our democracy.
That said, if these were the only two problems I had with DeVos, I would probably support her nomination. I generally believe in giving leeway for Presidential cabinet appointments, and the fact that DeVos agrees with me ideologically on education reform would be good enough for me. The biggest issue with DeVos is that she seems to lack a grasp of the campus sexual assault epidemic in our country, and would not commit to maintain the 2011 Title IX guidelines designed to help combat this problem. This issue may be one of the worst outcomes of the next four years, going from the President who started the “It’s On Us” initiative to the misogynist who brags about serial sexual assault and walks in on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. One of the most important parts of the Department of Education is upholding Title IX and ensuring victims of sexual assault receive basic protections and can safely continue their education. The fact that DeVos cannot speak to this issue or commit to uphold basic protections already in place disqualifies her from the position.
I will be calling my Senator who serves on the HELP committee, which will vote on whether to send her nomination to the entire Senate, to tell him to vote down the DeVos appointment. I encourage my readers to check the list here and see if either of your Senators serves on this committee. If so, give them a ring and (kindly) tell the staffer that you encourage a No vote on the DeVos nomination because she will not support current Title IX guidelines for combatting on-campus sexual assault.