The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education on Feb. 7 left many members of the Geneseo community uneasy due to DeVos’ skeptical views about the effectiveness of public education.
Students Against Social Injustice held a meeting to discuss DeVos’ nomination and the role of the secretary of education as well as her stances on certain issues and many people’s subsequent criticisms on Monday Feb. 13. In addition, members also brainstormed ideas to voice their concerns directly to DeVos.
Psychology major sophomore Kevin Vazcones believes that by showing DeVos people’s experiences in the United States’ education system, it could allow for their voices to be heard.
“I feel that because of her wealth she’s very out of touch with the people that she could be affecting in school systems,” Vazcones said. “So I feel that it’s important to show her statistics, information and videos of people’s actual life experiences in the education system and family’s suffering with the lack of conditions in public schools … asking her, ‘What can you do as secretary of education to better their lives?’”
In addition, Geneseo faculty and staff members are wary of how DeVos will handle her new position as secretary of education. Interim Provost Paul Schacht, emphasizing that the Trump administration has released few actual policy proposals in the area of education, outlined the impact that DeVos could potentially have on colleges and universities.
“The concern that I’ve heard expressed about her is that she is looking to direct federal money toward for-profit institutions of higher education, and that she’s looking to loosen regulations on higher education institutions that want to receive federal money,” Schacht said. “If she were to do things like that I think it would be bad for public higher education and bad for higher education in general.”
Director of the Office of Financial Aid Susan Romano is concerned whether the new administration will enforce existing rules and legislation from a higher education perspective.
“If I had to pick some areas to be mindful of going forward, there are certain gainful employment rules that have been enacted, where schools have to show that their education is going to give their students gainful employment,” she said. “If they don’t meet certain ratios, then schools would lose their federal aid funding. That’s enacted right now and we’re wondering if she’s going to just choose not to enforce those laws.”
Romano also expressed uncertainty about how the new administration will handle Pell Grants and student loans, which the Department of Education oversees. The new department has not indicated much in the way of those policies so far, according to Romano.
The Obama administration returned handling of federal student loans from private lenders to the Department of Education, which saved the federal government a significant amount of money, according to Romano. She was confident that changes in the providers of student loans would have little impact on borrowing rates.
Besides gainful employment rules, president of the Women’s Action Coalition senior Maya Lucyshyn expressed concerns that DeVos would refuse to enforce the Obama Administration’s rules regarding campus sexual assault.
“It disturbs me that someone so incompetent is in charge of protecting my rights and the rights of my peers to a safe and successful education,” Lucyshyn said.
Members of the college community are also concerned about DeVos’ experience in the education field. Education major senior Sarah Pray spoke of why she feels DeVos is unqualified for the position.
“DeVos has no experience in education, and no knowledge,” Pray said. “I would have failed a class for not knowing some of the important terminology I’ve seen her mess up in interviews, and the fact that she’s in charge of our entire country’s education system is terrifying.”
Professor of education Leigh O’Brien perceives there to be a continued lack of commitment to the institution of public education in the U.S., and DeVos’s nomination is a sign of this lack of commitment.
“Just in the last few years, the attacks on public schools and teachers and public education have led me to feel less and less positive about the field,” she said. “It’s hard to say to our students, ‘Yes, you want to be a teacher’ … but it’s really tough right now to see it as something you really want to jump into with both feet because of these constraints and the pushback and the devaluing of education.”
Staff writer Erik Mebust contributed to this article, and Tyler Waldriff contributed to the reporting of this article.