The National Association of Scholars congratulates Betsy DeVos on her confirmation as Secretary of Education. Vice President Pence, in his role as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote for this highly contested appointment. Two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, voted against the appointment, as did all 46 Democrats and the 2 Independent members, Bernie Sanders and Angus King.
The close vote on Secretary DeVos’s confirmation reflects America’s deep divisions on education policy. Teachers unions are strongly opposed to DeVos because of her support for school choice. Other Americans have criticized Secretary DeVos for her former enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards and her opposition to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. That successful ballot measure outlawed racial preferences in admissions at public colleges and universities in the state of Michigan. Secretary DeVos’s positions on other matters in higher education are not widely known.
NAS members have expressed diverse opinions about Secretary DeVos’s appointment. NAS president Peter Wood has offered counsel to the Trump administration on how to improve American higher education. We are optimistic that Secretary DeVos will take our proposals under serious consideration.
“The strength of Secretary DeVos’s appointment,” said NAS president Peter Wood, “is that she brings strong independent leadership to American education. She will not be steered by organized labor or by the higher education establishment. This means that we have the opportunity for real reform.”
Betsy and Dick DeVos were financial backers of the Center for Individual Rights in 2001 when it led the challenge to racial preferences in undergraduate and graduate admissions at the University of Michigan. NAS hopes that as Secretary of Education, Ms. DeVos will embody that same spirit of equal opportunity in college admissions. Ms. DeVos has also spoken forcefully in favor of providing America’s high school graduates with a greater range of choices. President Obama repeatedly emphasized the need for all Americans to attend college. By contrast, Secretary DeVos recognizes that college education is only one path among many that can lead to a good life. Secretary DeVos has addressed the spiral of increased college pricing and student debt that has put higher education out of reach for many promising students. We look forward to her proposals to break this destructive cycle.
The National Association of Scholars is especially concerned about the other forthcoming appointments in the Department of Education under this administration. Previous attempts to reform the Carter-era Department have been stymied by the permanent bureaucracy and the miles of Byzantine regulations that bureaucracy has imposed on all levels of American education. The Obama Department of Education proliferated these regulations at a record pace, and Secretary DeVos will have to deal in particular with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. In recent years that office pursued an aggressive ideological strategy of threatening schools and colleges that failed to conform to its positions on sexual assault and transgender students.
The NAS strongly urges Secretary DeVos to pursue a rigorous review of unjustified and legally dubious regulations. We hope that she will find others like herself, who are not beholden to the education establishment, to fill key leadership positions within the Department.
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