Two weeks after the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as secretary of the Department of Education, Yale students and faculty members have voiced concerns about how DeVos will alter Title IX on Yale’s campus.
Although two Republican senators voted against her confirmation, the Senate was largely divided along party lines, which led to a historic tiebreaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. But the controversy of DeVos’ nomination extends beyond the Senate and to Yale’s student body: A post-doctoral fellow in the Education Studies program, Mira Debs GRD ’16 said that an informal poll of her class on public schools and public policy found that all 48 students opposed DeVos’ confirmation, and Helen Price ’18, co-founder and director of Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale, said DeVos’ confirmation was troubling.
“I’m extremely disappointed with … DeVos as a candidate for [secretary of education],” Price said. “Her credentials are severely lacking, and her Senate hearing was troubling, both in that it showed a lack of knowledge and experience, and also highlighted her extreme views on guns in schools and other topics.”
The Department of Education plays a role in all schools for all ages, overseeing grant funding and the implementation of Title IX policy. Title IX applies to any institution that receives federal financial assistance from the department. A total of 16,500 school districts and 7,000 postsecondary institutions, in addition to charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries and museums, must all adhere to the provisions of Title IX, which encompasses recruitment, admissions, counseling, sex-based harassment, treatment of pregnant and parenting students and employment.
Enforcement of Title IX is designated to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, which evaluates, investigates and resolves complaints alleging sex discrimination. The OCR also conducts compliance reviews, which are proactive investigations aimed at examining potential systemic violations by using sources of information other than complaints.
Stephanie Spangler, the University’s Title IX coordinator and deputy provost, did not speculate on how DeVos might affect Title IX at Yale. However, she emphasized the University’s “commitment to address and prevent sexual misconduct,” as well as “to cultivate a positive campus climate” that is “strong and longstanding.”
“We will continue to uphold that commitment and to respond to our community’s needs as well as to guidance from the Department of Education,” Spangler said.
But Price said that she worries what effect DeVos will have on college campus’ sexual assault policy, noting that DeVos refused to commit to continuing former President Barack Obama’s support of Title IX enforcement.
Price also noted that DeVos donated money to organizations that campaign on behalf of “alleged perpetrators of campus sexual assault, rather than victims.” One of these organizations — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, to which DeVos and her husband have donated $10,000 — sued the Department of Education to raise the standard of proof for victims of sexual assault in university administrative hearings, said Price, contending that it is unfair to the accused.
Yale students in their sophomore year may apply to the Education Studies program, which focuses on the topic of education historically, socially, politically and economically. Hong Bui ’18, who studies in the Education Studies program, said she watched DeVos’ confirmation hearing, researched her views and does not feel very optimistic about the future of the public education system.
“I feel like she didn’t really try to understand the issues that concern our education system in general,” Bui said. “She just kind of knew what she wanted to support and didn’t know how to really articulate that or back that up.”
Regarding a major component of DeVos’ platform, charter schools, Debs said the central question to ask is how these schools are regulated. According to sociology student Debs, DeVos has suggested that online charter schools are a potential solution for giving students in rural areas access to higher quality education. However, Debs noted that the statistics on graduation rates from online charter schools that DeVos cited in her Senate hearing differed from the data available.
For example, DeVos said that Nevada Virtual Academy had a 2015 graduation rate of 100 percent, which was actually only 63 percent, that Ohio Virtual Academy had a graduation rate of 92 percent, which in reality was 53 percent, and that Utah Virtual Academy had a graduation rate of 96 percent, while its graduation rate was actually only 42 percent.
Still, Debs expressed some optimism and said that it’s too early to know what DeVos will do and how her actions will impact rural areas.
“I think she does care about these students, or at least she says she cares about these students that are not getting quality education,” Bui said. “I think the voucher system won’t be able to cover every single student that deserves high quality education. And that’s all students.”