Home > Uncategorized > DeVos Comments on Charlottesville Well Received… but… Should She Resign on Principle?

DeVos Comments on Charlottesville Well Received… but… Should She Resign on Principle?

August 18, 2017

After issuing a somewhat namby-pamby response to the Charlottesville protests earlier in the week, Betsy DeVos issued a statement that was forceful, unambiguous, and, as reported inPolitico, generally well received by education leaders across the political spectrum. Politico’s reporting is outlined below with my comments in bold green italics

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos didn’t mention President Donald Trump Thursday in a memo to staff as she addressed the Charlottesville tragedy, but she didn’t need to. Her words distanced her from the president – at least on the issue of race. In the memo, she condemned the views of white nationalists, neo-Nazis “and other racist bigots” as “totally abhorrent to the American ideal.” Colleges and universities have been ground zero in the emotional fights playing out around the country over issues of race, history and free speech. As those institutions and K-12 schools ramp up for the fall semester, many have been watching her response closely.

DeVos struck the right tone, said Kristen Amundson, president of the National Association of State Boards of Education. She did what she needed to do, which was address her staff and find a way forward as students nationwide head back to school, Amundson said. “It’s a clear and absolutely unambiguous statement,” she said.

DeVos’ statement is “welcome” but “actions speak louder than words,” said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department during the Obama administration. “We call on DeVos to nominate a qualified individual to lead the Office for Civil Rights, robustly and systematically enforce our civil rights laws, and preserve guidance and regulations clarifying schools’ obligations and students’ right to be free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, language status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability status.” I completely agree with this perspective. To paraphrase Stephen Covey: “You can’t write your way out of a problem you behaved your way into”. Ms. DeVos’ record to date on civil rights has been abysmal. 

“The moral clarity of her statement stands in stark contrast to the disheartening comments of the President, and I appreciate and applaud the obvious passion with which she has addressed the events of last weekend,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.


“It’s a very strong statement, and a great example of moral leadership,” said Mike Petrilli, president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who said this weekend that he would change his party registration to “unaffiliated” after the president’s response to Charlottesville. While I generally disagree with much of Mr. Petrilli’s thinking about public education, I applaud his principled decision to withdraw from the GOP given their continued support of the President. 

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said DeVos’ words “are empty as long as they advance the agenda of a president who too often provides a platform for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right.” The NEA is waiting for “a signal from this administration and its Secretary of Education that there will be no support for federal funding of private or privately-managed schools that espoused hate, white supremacy, or bigotry against races, ethnic communities, GLBT or religious communities,” she said. This echoes the sentiments of Ms. Gupta, referenced above. I am heartened to see the leader of the teachers’ union issuing this conditional approval of Ms. DeVos’ writings. 

In an unrelated effort, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten urged a “new level” of action to combat bigotry and white supremacy in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and 50 state attorneys generals. She asks Sessions to “probe deeper into the agenda of white supremacist organizations and their neo-Nazi allies present within the United State who may have plans for future violent confrontations.” Read the letters here and hereI await Ms. Weingarten’s specific reaction to Ms. DeVos’ statement… and hope that she will echo Ms. Gupta and Ms. Garcia in calling for actions that match words. 

DeVos should resign, said Kevin Huffman, an independent education reform advocate and former Tennessee education commissioner. “Secretary DeVos is missing the most significant role that she can play: resign her office immediately in protest of her boss’ reprehensible comments,” he said. “President Trump’s support of white nationalists and his active defense of white supremacy constitute an enormous threat to children of color. The Secretary is one of the few Americans positioned to take action against that threat: by resigning in disgust. As long as she serves this President, she lacks the moral authority to comment on issues of race, division, or healing.” WOW! This seems like an extreme action to take… but if Ms. DeVos DID take this action it would signal to evangelical voters that his racist bile is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible and incompatible with public education. 

“Nice email but tough case to make while continuing to serve this president,” tweeted Matt Lehrich, a former White House and Education Department communications official during the Obama administration. A short but sweet statement… but one that is consistent with that of Mr. Huffman. 

In a post yesterday I commended the CEOs who took a stand against the President by stepping down from his Advisory Committees because he did not reflect the values of this country, but chastised them for not taking the additional step of paying their fair share of taxes. I concur with those who commend Ms. DeVos’ words while seeking to see actions that match her verbiage… and one action that would speak volumes would be for her to resign. The practical impact might be to set a series of cabinet resignations in motion… resignations that might lead to Mr. Trump leaving office voluntarily or through articles of impeachment crafted by a courageous GOP member. One thing is clear: if Ms. DeVos DID resign and Mr. Trump DID step down, President Pence would quickly re-appoint her to office.

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