Republican mega-donor Betsy DeVos would not commit to upholding Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault during her confirmation hearing Tuesday evening for the Department of Education’s top spot.
“I agree with you that sexual assault in any form or any place is a problem,” DeVos said after Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) asked her, before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, if she felt that sexual assault on college campuses is a “significant problem.”
When Casey pushed DeVos to say if she would uphold the Obama administration’s 2011 guidance that colleges and universities have a responsibility to address campus sexual assault under Title IX’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination, she refused to give a concrete answer.
“I know that there’s a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance, and if confirmed I would 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,” Devos said. She added that “it would be premature” for her to give an answer on the matter when Casey again pressed for one.
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Inside Higher Ed reported in November that the Trump administration could roll back that Title IX guidance or eliminate the education department’s Office for Civil Rights, which issued the guidance.
When the topic was again brought up by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), DeVos would not provide a concrete answer to whether she would “rein in” the department’s Office for Civil Rights. Instead, she said she would “be looking very closely at how this has been regulated and handled and with great sensitivity to those who are victims, and also considering perpetrators as well.”
DeVos’ family foundations have donated to FIRE, an organization that opposes the Obama administration’s efforts to address rampant campus sexual assault and is “staunchly opposed to federal efforts to protect assault victims,” according to ThinkProgress. FIRE officials confirmed that they have received donations from the DeVos family.
Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) questioned DeVos about her family’s donations to organizations that oppose LGBTQ equality and have supported conversion therapy. DeVos told Franken that she believed “in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination.” When asked by Baldwin how she would support LGBTQ students and parents, DeVos again asserted that she believes in equality but offered no specifics.
A March 2016 report by Rewire found that the DeVos family gave millions of dollars to groups and politicians that oppose reproductive freedoms and LGBTQ equality, including Focus on the Family.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked DeVos how much she and her family had given to the Republican Party and asked “if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”
Though DeVos said she believed her political donations were not responsible for her nomination, she wrote in a 1997 guest column for Roll Call that her family does “expect a return on our investment” when they donate money.
DeVos and her husband donated to the campaigns of 17 U.S. Senators who are now considering her nomination, according to Politico.