Betsy DeVos' Campus Sexual Assault Stance Is Bad

by Joseph D. Lyons
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing on Tuesday for the Education Secretary position was full of disappointments for Democratic senators. She was grilled by several, and her answers seemed to disappoint. Whether it was keeping guns out of schools, trying to make college free, or ensuring that the disabled have the necessary services to receive a public education, she seemed to come up short. She equivocated or sidestepped most questions. But there was one issue that has upset many in Washington and on college campuses across the country. What has Betsy DeVos said about campus sexual assault? The nominee essentially refused to answer the questions on the issue.

It was brought up twice during the hearing, first by Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and then again by Sen. Pat Murray of Washington, both of whom serve on the Senate committee on health, education, labor and pensions. Under the Obama Administration, Title IX has been used to ensure that campus sexual assault is addressed on college campuses. The Education Department instituted a rule in 2011 that administrations need to rule based on what they think happened in sexual assault cases — and not require specific evidence. If they didn't comply, they could lose federal funds.

This was seen as a big step forward by sexual assault advocates, and the fear is that DeVos as Education Secretary could completely reverse the rule. Hence Casey's question if she would commit to keeping the rule in place were she to take over the federal agency. Here was DeVos' response:

Assault in any form is never OK, I just want to be very clear on that ... If confirmed, I look forward to understanding the past actions and current situation better, and to ensuring that the intent of the law is actually carried out in a way that recognizes both the victim ... as well as those who are accused.

That wasn't good enough for Casey, nor for Murray. And specifically focusing on the rights of "those who were accused" sounds problematic too. Murray further explained her concern. "I was not happy with how you talked about this issue when we met," Murray said to DeVos at the hearing. "But I am hopeful that you’ve learned more about it since then and are prepared to address it seriously."

Ultimately DeVos never shared her thoughts on the matter. The one way to know what she thinks would be to look at her past donations, as POLITICO did earlier this month. She and her husband, an heir to the Amway fortune, have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes.

A few donations in particular, totaling at least $10,000, were to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The group, also known as FIRE, has a few goals, but a major one is defending the rights of the accused on college campuses, including in sexual assault cases.

Given her lack of an answer, these donations are highly troubling. Call your senators and demand they get an answer from DeVos before she is confirmed.