Hundreds of students and alumni from Calvin College, the Christian school that is the alma mater of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, have signed a letter saying they oppose her nomination by President Trump to be secretary of education, according to the school’s student newspaper, Chimes.
Calvin College, founded in 1876, has an enrollment of about 4,000 students. According to its website, it is “a top-ranked college in Grand Rapids, Michigan that prepares students to be Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. Through rigorous academic study and intentional Christian community, you will learn to think deeply, act justly and live wholeheartedly in everything that you do.”
The letter, initiated by an alumnus of the college, has more than 700 signatures and was still accepting them before it was to be sent to members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who are scheduled to vote on DeVos’s nomination on Jan. 31, Chimes said. A committee vote had been scheduled for this week but was postponed after DeVos stumbled at her confirmation hearing on Jan. 17, displaying a lack of understanding of basic education issues.
The letter was posted on the student newspaper’s Facebook page and received numerous comments, some of them supporting DeVos and others backing those who signed the letter.
The White House did not respond to a query about the letter. Matt Frendewey, national communications director for the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit organization DeVos founded and ran, said in an email:
Betsy DeVos is fully qualified, prepared and ready to serve as our nation’s next Secretary of Education. And, she has broad support across the country and locally, including Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Weatherhall [sic] Neal. Betsy DeVos has been unequivocal in her support for public education, both traditional public schools and publicly funding a child’s education at a school of the parents’ choice.
The students and alumni who signed the letter are part of the growing opposition to DeVos’s nomination; opponents include some school reformers who share part of her strong commitment to school choice programs. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has been urging the panel to confirm her, saying she is not an extremist in regard to her education views. Critics say she is.
DeVos never attended public schools, nor have her children. The Calvin letter, which you can see in full here, with signatures, says that many of the signors share a Christian educational background with DeVos and that they have no doubt that she is “among the best-educated college graduates” in the United States. But they have specific concerns about her fitness for the job of education secretary, including what they say is her failure to show a “strong commitment” to public education.
Here are those concerns from the letter:
1) While many of us were inspired by our time at Calvin College to make education a professional commitment, Mrs. DeVos was not. She has never worked in any educational institution as an administrator, nor as an educator. If the position of the Secretary of Education requires the individual to have an intimate knowledge of the tools used by educators, which we believe it does, Mrs. DeVos does not qualify.
2) Many of us entered Calvin College directly from Christian high schools and spent our entire elementary and secondary school years in these institutions, as did Mrs. DeVos. While we appreciate the opportunity to thrive and learn that is provided by these educational systems, we recognize that the vast majority of K–12 students are educated in the public school system. Because of this, we believe that any individual who is nominated to be Secretary of Education should have a strong commitment to public education, which Mrs. DeVos does not.
3) We believe that Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to education is limited to her advocacy of and financial contributions to religious and charter schools. Having the financial resources to promote one’s ideological point of view and endorse elected officials who share that ideology is not equivalent to the preparation that comes from being an educator or educational administrator.
4) Finally, in the first day of her confirmation hearing, Mrs. DeVos indicated a lack of support for federal policies regarding educational systems that receive public funding. This is especially concerning given that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title IX, which ensure that all students’ educational experiences are free of discrimination that impedes learning, are not of value to Mrs. DeVos.
Our undergraduate education prepared us to be engaged and informed citizens who support public servants who seek to serve effectively and competently. This is precisely why we oppose the nomination of our fellow alumna, Betsy DeVos, for the position of United States Secretary of Education.
(Correction: An earlier version of this post said the student newspaper was named the Calvin Chimes. It is simply Chimes.)