Casey Grills Trump’s Education Pick on Sexual Assault Allegation Procedures

Betsy DeVos said it would be "premature" of her to commit to Obama administration guidelines regarding how schools and colleges should treat sexual misconduct allegations.


L: Sen. Bob Casey | R: Betsy DeVos (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Prompted by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey yesterday, Betsy DeVos, the woman who will likely head the U.S. Department of Education under president-elect Donald Trump, said she would not commit to following Obama administration guidelines on how schools, colleges and universities should treat sexual assault and harassment allegations. 

DeVos, who has advocated for a more privatized school system and is the daughter-in-law of billionaire Richard DeVos, the owner of the Orlando Magic, said during her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday that “it would be premature” for her to commit to upholding the 2011 guidelines to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs.

“Senator, I know that there are a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance,” DeVos said. “And I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions.”

“Assault in any form is never OK, and I just want to be very clear on that,” she added.

Sen. Casey ended his questioning by disclosing that DeVos has reportedly donated about $25,000 over the past four years to The Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, an organization that works to fight the 2011 Title IX guidelines and supports a bill that would work to dismantle Sen. Casey’s Campus SaVE Act.

Sen. Casey’s act, which went into effect in the fall of 2015, serves as a complement to the Clery Act and the Title IX guidelines by expanding upon education requirements surrounding the prevention of rape, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on federally-funded campuses.

“I hope that’s not a conflict of interest,” Sen. Casey said in regard to Devos’s donations. “I would hope that you would make a definite commitment as a nominee to enforce the law as it relates to sexual assault on college campuses.”

Casey took to Twitter to voice concern about DeVos shortly after the hearing.

The 2011 Title IX guidelines, which were championed by advocates of sexual assault survivors, include the requirements that institutions must alert students of anti-discrimination and anti-misconduct policies and help connect victims with law enforcement officials if they so seek.

Some conservatives oppose the law and the guidelines, claiming schools shouldn’t be threatened with the denial of public funding if they don’t comply with the federal standards – but federal funding has never once been withdrawn from a school as such a punishment, even since Title IX was first implemented in 1972. Since then, more than 200 colleges and universities have become subject to federal investigation for their handling of sexual misconduct complaints.

As Tara Murtha of the Women’s Law Project pointed out, the law functions as a way for activists to gain capital leverage – in addition to choosing where they invest their tuition money – in the fight against sexual assault and harassment.

Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.