In the confirmation hearing for Education nominee Betsy DeVos, Democratic Senators pressed for specific answers on numerous crucial questions. And Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) hit on an area where DeVos seemed woefully unprepared for a meaningful discussion: Title IX protections for victims of sexual assault in colleges and universities.
Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos forgot to study for the biggest test of her life. With Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) on the education committee — who, along with fellow Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), is one of the main sponsors of the Campus SaVE Act, which helped write stricter standards for colleges and universities dealing with sexual assault — DeVos should have been prepared to discuss the issues around campus sexual assault.
But when Casey asked DeVos pointedly and directly whether or not she would support the current provisions and standards of evidence as stated by that law, her response was a waffling non-answer about working with “the range of opinions” on the topic. When pressed, she commented that it would be “premature” of her to say whether or not she would commit to the current federal guidance on the subject.
Her response was so lacking in understanding and specificity that Casey then explained to her the context surrounding the law, what the current standards are, and, most importantly, why he was asking this question: She has donated to a group that supports laws which are in opposition to the current federal stance on Title IX and campus sexual assault.
CASEY: Let me give you a little background here that you might know: In 2011 the Department of Education issued guidance on Title IX, by this administration, by the current administration. Would you uphold the 2011 Title IX guidance as it relates to sexual assault on campus?
DEVOS: Senator, I know that there’s a lot of, uh, conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance. And if confirmed, I look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinions and understand the issues from the higher ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them, and I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions.
CASEY: Well, I agree with the guidance, so I’m just asking for a yes or no. I guess you’re not going to give me a yes or no answer on committing to that guidance.
DEVOS: That would be premature of me to say.
CASEY: This problem, to say it’s an epidemic would be an understatement. The Centers for Disease Control told us back in 2009 that 1 in 5 women are the victims of sexual assault on campus. A lot of those 1 in 5 never have an opportunity or never report incidents. It’s a major problem for women. In so many ways, it’s the ultimate betrayal. Parents for generations have told their daughters: study hard in school, get good grades, because when you get good grades, you might have the opportunity to go to college. And when you get to college, the world is open to you. And you can succeed by having higher education.
But too often, it happens every year on many campuses around the country, too often, a young woman is a victim. Sometimes on the first day she’s there, in the first week. Sometimes over the course of her first year, and her life is destroyed by that. So, we have a long way to go to addressing this problem. We took some good action on this issue on the Violence Against Women Act. It just happened to be my bill that got passed into law, the so-called Campus SaVE Act.
What we did in that bill was for the first time say to colleges and universities: You have to do more than you’re doing. Certainly on one broad topic of prevention and on awareness. So young men on the campus who are the perpetrators of this have to be part of the solution. They have to be part of bystander education, a preventative strategy. But in addition to all kinds of transparency and requirement, this is what the act did for women, or for victims I should say, or victims of assault.
Colleges and universities must provide clear statements regarding the procedures followed, they must do more than they had been doing when it comes to enforcement, and in particular with regard to victims it says the college or university must indicate to the victim her right to notify law enforcement, the institution has an obligation to help the victim report to law enforcement, including helping them get a protective order. So that’s what the law is now. My bill. The fall of 2015 this went into effect across the country.
There’s an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, they support a bill that would totally change that: They would force a victim to go to the police to report, and they would change the standard evidence.
Would you commit as Secretary of Education to retaining the standard of evidence that is currently the law?
DEVOS: Senator, let me just say that my mom’s heart is really piqued on this issue. Assault in any form is never okay and I just wanna be very clear on that. If confirmed I look forward to understanding the past actions and the current situation better and ensuring that the intent of the law is carried out in a way that recognizes both the victim – the rights of the victims, and as well as those who are accused as well.
CASEY: I’m out of time. The organization that has that position, which is contrary to the law, the current law, and contrary to the spirit of what we try to do in that piece of legislation, is the recipient of donations from you totally about twenty five thousand bucks over the course of four years. And I would hope that’s not a conflict of interest.
Casey later took to Twitter to express his disappointment in DeVos’s non-stance on Title IX:
Victims of sexual assault deserve a Secretary who will stand up for them, not one unwilling to commit to enforcing basic protections.
— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) January 18, 2017
Casey and Murray had previously sent a letter to the Trump administration asking them to work to preserve these provisions, and have clear worries about DeVos’ stance. And DeVos’ responses in the hearing did nothing to assuage those concerns.