Faculty members compose open letter opposing DeVos’ cabinet appointment

Last week, over 1400 members of the College community signed a letter expressing their opposition towards businesswoman Betsy DeVos’s appointment as Secretary of Education. The letter, which members of the College’s faculty drafted and began sharing on Jan. 26, received signatures from faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni.

“The Williams letter explains our commitment to students’ educational achievement and underscores that DeVos aims to harm our future students,” Jacqueline Hidalgo, associate professor of Latina/o studies and religion at the College, said. “She is antagonistic to the governmental office for which she has been nominated.”

Numerous faculty members were particularly passionate in opposing DeVos because of their backgrounds in education.

“I am deeply opposed to every single one of President Trump’s cabinet picks, but as a teacher, I was particularly appalled by his choice of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education,” Bernie Rhie, associate professor of English at the College, said.

Over 160 faculty members, including Rhie and Hidalgo, signed the letter, citing their primary concerns as opposition to DeVos’s views on Title IX, the Individuals with Disabilities Act and school choice.

“The ignorance she betrayed during those hearings of the Individual with Disabilities Act was particularly shocking,” Rhie said. “I was also deeply alarmed by her refusal to commit to upholding the 2011 Title IX guidance pertaining to the combating of sexual assaults on college campuses.”

Hidalgo emphasized her opposition to DeVos’s history of supporting school choice policies that she believes are harmful to equal access to education. 

“Her prior advocacy for ‘school choice’ has a proven track record of failure,” Hidalgo said. “DeVos advocates policies that would dangerously damage equal access to quality primary and secondary school education.”

In addition to outlining their shared opposition to many of DeVos’s policy positions, the faculty involved in composing the letter also hoped that it would set the tone for the kind of actions the College would take to improve education and promote the well-being of its students.

“The letter is important even without this statement [of opposition],” Anjuli Raza Kolb, assistant professor of English, said. “It provides a record of resistance and a starting point for thinking about how we as a faculty and a community will be able to support our students and their learning over the next years.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Senate confirmed DeVos by a vote of 51-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote, making it the first time a vice president has done so for a cabinet position confirmation vote since 2006. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined the Senate’s 46 Democrats and two independents in opposing DeVos’ confirmation.