In a climactic moment in politics that was almost as historic as it was tragic, Vice President of the United States and James Bond villain Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary this past Tuesday. DeVos’s nomination by hamster-handed president Donald Trump back in November, though one of many controversial choices made by the then-president-elect, was perhaps the single most contested nomination of all, sparking widespread protest across the country, particularly by the nation’s public school teachers.
Critics have noted that DeVos lacks experience to be Education Secretary; she has never held a professional position as an educator in her life, nor has she, or any of her four grown children, ever attended, taught in, or run an American public school. In addition, some worry about DeVos’s ability to maintain separate church-state relations; in an interview with a Christian philanthropic group The Gathering, she explicitly stated that her mission through education is to “advance God’s kingdom.” DeVos has also donated to organizations that promote dominion theology.
As always, I try to devote my more politically charged opinions to how current happenings at the federal level may impact us here in Kalamazoo, more specifically, here at K College. And, granted, DeVos seems to have her focus set primarily on K-12 grade levels, and not so much on higher ed (despite the rising rate of college tuition and student loan debt indicating that reform is sorely needed). What’s more, as a private college, K is probably among those academic institutions across the country least vulnerable to DeVos’s acts as Education Secretary. But that, by no means, guarantees us immunity from the impacts that will be felt by other American colleges and universities.
For one thing, DeVos has said in hearings it would be “premature” to confirm she will uphold department guidelines requesting colleges take an “active role” against sexual assault. These guidelines were put in place during the Obama administration in an effort to fight rampant sexual assault on college campuses across the country, and to overturn what few regulations that exist could potentially jeopardize what little progress has been made since.
What’s more is that DeVos, despite her apparent disinterest in higher education, will have to have some kind of role in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which has a major impact on the country’s student loan program, which impacts millions of Americans. Though DeVos has criticized the rising cost of college, she has called debt-elimination proposals “in stark contrast” to approaches that address the “core” issues of higher education. Even so, DeVos’s opinions on such matters should probably be taken with a grain of salt, considering she hilariously told Al Franken, a Democratic senator from the state of Minnesota, that student loan debt had gone up 980% in the last eight years. Franken’s response—an incredibly exasperated, “that’s just not so”—is absolutely right; the correct figure is 118%.
It would seem that, if we can find anything good in DeVos’s young tenure as Education Secretary so far, it might just be learning how to laugh through the pain.