Since being confirmed as Education Secretary in February, Betsy DeVos has not regularly spoken with the media. Last Wednesday, however, she sat down for a 30-minute conversation with the Associated Press to discuss a range of topics, including campus sexual assault and whether or not the department plans to take action on race-conscious admissions.
Here are the higher education takeaways from the interview:
The department announced in June that it would “pause” and re-regulate the gainful-employment and borrower defense-to-repayment rules — two Obama-era regulations aimed at reining in abuses by colleges. Ms. DeVos told the AP the two rules are among “a number of regulations” that the department believes to be “onerous and have targeted certain kinds of institutions based on their tax status.”
“Let’s be clear,” she said, “no student should be defrauded and in case of fraud there should be remedy. But we also know this approach has been unevenly applied and if there’s going to be regulation around some institutions we believe it needs to be fairly applied across the board.”
The department is examining several other regulations and “Dear Colleague” letters from the Obama administration, the secretary added. In accordance with an executive order signed by President Trump, the department is reviewing regulations to identify which would be “appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.”
Ms. DeVos distanced the department from a Justice Department posting, originally reported by The New York Times, that suggested the administration would be taking a closer look at affirmative action and race-conscious admissions. The secretary did not offer comment on whether or not she believed that colleges should look at race in admissions, but she said “this has been a question before the courts and the courts have opined.
“We have not been involved with the Justice Department’s posting and again I think as they have stated, this was an internal issue and one that they are continuing to move forward on,” she said.
She added that she believes the dynamic has to change at the K-12 level. ”It is not fair to think that when students transit through a K-12 system that is not preparing them for beyond, that somehow we are going to wave a magic wand and things are going to be perfect for them at the higher-ed level.”
The secretary has often been criticized for calling historically black colleges, which were founded to educate black Americans who were excluded from higher education during the era of de jure segregation, “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” In the interview, she once again sought to distance herself from the remarks.
“When I talked about it being a pioneer in choice it was because I acknowledge that racism was rampant and there were no choices,” said Ms. DeVos, adding that her comments were “out of context.” HBCUs provided options for students that they didn’t have, she said. “I think that that comment was — while I could have said it, stated it much better — my intention was to say they were pioneering on behalf of students that didn’t have another choice.”
“This was their only choice,” she said, adding that the interview was probably the most explicitly she had explained her remarks. “And at the same time I should have decried much more forcefully the ravages of racism in this country.”
In July the secretary hosted a day of listening sessions on Title IX and campus sexual assault. Ms. DeVos said the department is “continuing to listen and talk with individuals from all perspectives on this issue.” The department asked a federal judge on Friday to put a 90-day hold on a lawsuit challenging the controversial 2011 guidance on Title IX while officials review the policy.
“All the individuals I’ve talked with have said we need to have a process and a system that we know is right and fair for everyone involved,” she said. “We have to get this right on behalf of all students.
“I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it, sexual assault anywhere at any time is horrible and we need to decry it and at the same time we need to ensure that the processes to address it when it happens are done right.”