I have said umpteen times that I think the net contribution of the U.S. Department of Education to American collegiate life is negative —-the average productivity of employees of that Department dealing with higher education issues is less than zero. The problem, however, is far less with the employees, many of whom are good people, than with the mission. In early 2017, newly elected president Donald Trump had an awful time even getting his Education Secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, confirmed by the Senate: the vote was 50 to 50 (two Republican Senators voted against her) —- with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie to confirm her, a first time in American history a vice president actually voted on a presidential nominee in the Senate.
On taking office, DeVos was already known as a strong advocate of charter schools and other deviations from the standard public school model, earning her the undying enmity of teachers unions. But she was not known for having any substantial connections to higher education, actually fairly typical, including President-Elect Biden’s nominee for Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona. However, she had a strong higher education aide in Diane Auer Jones, Principal Deputy Under Secretary, herself no shrinking violet with a somewhat controversial history, including years working in the for-profit higher education sector, which to some education policymakers is less honorable than, say, running a strip club or illicitly selling pot, an unfair perspective on the many good folks in that sector of higher education.