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DeVos on school faculties at CPAC

February 27, 2017

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos offered few details of her views on higher education during her confirmation hearings.

But on Thursday, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, she sharply criticized faculty members and accused them trying to indoctrinate students. She devoted only a paragraph to higher education in a relatively short speech, but she captured lots of attention. Here’s what she said, after asking how many in the audience were college students:

“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

DeVos opened her speech by saying that she wasn’t worried about what “the mainstream media has called me lately.”

Past education secretaries have offered plenty of criticism of higher education. Both Margaret Spellings (under a Republican administration) and Arne Duncan (under a Democratic administration) have raised questions about college costs, accountability and measures of student learning. But secretaries after William J. Bennett (in President Reagan’s second term) have not generally been culture warriors.

The CPAC crowd loved the speech and cheered DeVos on.

The American Council on Education declined to comment. As did the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that has criticized many colleges as not being sufficiently committed to free speech.

Via email, Michael B. Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group that has argued for a traditional and more rigorous college curriculum, expressed sympathy for some of what DeVos discussed. “Our colleges must do a better job preparing graduates for citizenship in a free society, which relies on robust debate, not safe spaces,” he said. “For too long, higher education has allowed these principles to erode. It’s a real problem when multiple cases of the ‘heckler’s veto’ go unpunished; when a significant percentage of students believe it acceptable to bar journalists from a public assembly if they believe they will not write favorably about their message, freedom of the press is under assault; and it simply does not bode well for a free society when – as a Gallup poll shows – a significant percentage of students favor restrictions on political views that others might find offensive.”

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