Betsy DeVos’s Title IX Stance Could Kill Any Hope For Progress

When pressed about Title IX during her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos sounded set to ignore it altogether

Betsy DeVos on Title IX — Getty Images
Jan 18, 2017 at 11:43 AM ET

Betsy DeVos, heir to two massive family fortunes and part owner of the Orlando Magic, is a strident “school choice” advocate whose donations have helped lead to the decimation of the Michigan public school system. She has no experience working in education and is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Education, because of course she is.

On Tuesday, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, DeVos’s non-existent experience shone through as she was unable or unwilling to answer questions about the basic requirements of the job.

When asked by Senator Bob Casey whether she’d uphold the campus sexual assault guidelines and discrimination protections set forth by Title IX and bolstered by the Office of Civil Rights’ 2011 Dear Colleague letter, she evaded the simple question by pointing to, “conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance.” Could she perhaps provide a yes or no answer, Senator Casey wondered? “That would be premature of me to say,” DeVos said.

Senator Casey then outlined the reasons why President Obama has made Title IX enforcement an administration priority: the 2009 Center for Disease Control Report in which one in five students claimed they’d been assaulted or the recipient of unwanted sexual advances; the ongoing reluctance of victims to come forward; the steps to include men in the prevention of sexual assault; and the requirement that colleges investigate any and all allegations. DeVos again refused to state her position.

“Senator, let me just say that my mom’s heart is really piqued on this issue,” DeVos said. “Assault in any form is never okay and I want to be very clear on that.”

One key to figuring out what DeVos actually thinks is her $10,000 donation to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a campus free-speech advocacy group that has challenged the lessened evidentiary requirements for sexual assault cases, sponsored anti-Title IX lawsuits, and provided pro-bono legal assistance to alleged perpetrators.

For critics of Title IX, the lack of due process serves neither victims nor the accused, but as seen in high-profile cases involving athletes, universities have a vested interest in protecting a valuable financial asset, with many fans willing to contort reality in order to defame accusers. While it may be difficult to gut Title IX altogether, DeVos could refuse enforce the current OCR standards, leading to an increase in unreported cases. For their part, advocates for Title IX are worried.

“I now hear every day from young survivors about why they too didn’t report to the police, and why Title IX—and all of its protections—have provided a desperately needed alternative to help them stay in school,”  Mahroh Jahangiri, the executive director of Know Your IX, said in a statement released prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

While we’re here, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who was in office during the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook, asked DeVos whether she thought allowing guns in schools and eradicating gun-free zones was a nifty idea. Once again, DeVos passed the buck to the states before finally responding.

“I will refer back to (Wyoming) Senator (Mike) Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wyoming,” she said. “I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”

So yeah, the nominee to run the Department of Education appears set to ignore both the OCR and Title IX in favor of focusing on the issues that matter to voters, like grizzly bears in schools. Great.