DeVos, “Liberty,” and Education

“Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law, period.” This is what US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Over and over. She repeated this so many times that US News called it her mantra. At the same time, she refused to say whether private schools that receive federal funds would be prevented from discriminating against LGBTQ students and students with disabilities.

Last month, DeVos told the House Appropriations Committee that she endorsed something called “state flexibility,” allowing states to decide whether federal funds would be withheld from private schools that discriminate based on gender, race, or any other category. So, this week’s Senate appearance represents a shift of mantra. (see Education Town Hall May 24)

It is important to recall, in considering this topic, that protection for LGBTQ students is a matter of “unsettled law,” with no federal statutes explicitly addressing the topic. That’s why the Obama administration had issued guidance on protection for LGBTQ students. For example, DOE guidelines guaranteed that transgender students have access to a bathroom that matches the gender with which they identity. That guidance was revoked early in Administration #45.

Returning to Tuesday’s hearing: DeVos repeatedly said that schools receiving federal funds must follow federal law. And then on Wednesday she met with Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, famous for refusing to accept federal funds so as to avoid anti-discrimination requirements.

Hillsdale and “Liberty”

Hillsdale College sued the U.S. Department of Education regarding anti-discrimination regulations to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1984, the Court ruled that colleges whose students accept Pell grants and G.I. Bill funds are subject to federal regulations. In response, Hillsdale decided to provide its own funding for needy students.

The New York Times wrote in February:

As a result, the college does not follow Title IX guidelines on sex discrimination and the handling of sexual assault cases and it has refused to engage in the otherwise required reporting on student race and ethnicity, let alone develop an affirmative action plan. Not surprisingly, the school’s “race blind” admissions policy results in an overwhelmingly white student body.

This stance has made the college a poster-child for one brand of “liberty.” And we can learn more about this particular view of “liberty” by a glance at the Hillsdale website.

The Michigan-based college offers programs for interns at the Kirby Center in Washington, DC, boasting Paul Ryan, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer among recent speakers. The center offers monthly lectures with recent topics including “Political Correctness and Domestic Terror,” “Leashing Leviathan: The Case for a Congressional Regulatory Budget,” and “The Danger of the Black Lives Movement.”

Hillsdale’s Liberty and Learning Youth Conference, sold out for this summer, introduces high schoolers to the “American Founding and the principles of Constitutional Government” while teaching them to shoot. The “Ladies for Liberty” summer program offers lessons on Constitution, free-market economy, self-defense, and shooting. Both programs stress the importance to the college of its privately funded Center for Shooting Education, located five miles from the main campus. Advertisements show a variety of people, all white-skinned, practicing with handguns and rifles.


In closing, a thought experiment —

Thought Experiment: Ladies for Liberty?

Picture the US Secretary of Education meeting with the president of an organization dedicated to teaching people to demand a minimum of governmental interference in their lives, backed up with lessons on self-defense, understanding the Constitution, and the operation of firearms.

Imagine, if you can, in place of Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, the president of Queer College for Gender and Sexuality Studies, or the dean of the National College for Immigrant Ethnic Studies, or, maybe, the chancellor of the University for African Diaspora Self-Determination.

….Larry Arnn once accused Michigan bureaucrats of casing his campus to search of “dark ones,” which he later “explained” meant “students with ‘dark faces.'” (See Chronicle of Higher Ed, e.g.)….

Can we even imagine queer, dark-skinned, armed “ladies for liberty”? And what would be the discussion today if the president of this college had been the Secretary of Education’s guest yesterday?

See also The Atlantic on religious exemptions to Title IX more generally.

Thanks to Jennifer Berkshire, chronicler of “the unwinding of public education and blogger at Have You Heard, for sharing DeVos’ agenda.

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