Mackinac Island — If Betsy DeVos isn’t the most hated political figure in the United States, she’s at least No. 2. Nearly eight months into her role as education secretary, the criticism that surrounded DeVos’ contentious nomination hasn’t let up.
If anything, it’s grown. In an interview Friday with The Detroit News at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Convention, DeVos discussed the vitriol she faces.
“I can only speculate why,” she says. “I represent change, and the forces that will protect the status quo are very formidable and organized, and so they are going to continue to thwart everything we do.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all. It doesn’t deter me in any way.”
So how does DeVos stay unflappable amid intense criticism? She’s ignoring most of it.
“I don’t pay a lot of attention to or read a lot of it intentionally,” DeVos says.
Given DeVos is the most misrepresented member of the Trump administration, that’s a smart call for her sanity.
But some of the barbs sting. She can’t seem to do anything right. Last week she took flack for traveling to work events in a private jet — at her own expense. Not to mention the constant drumbeat from her opponents who claim she’s profited from charter schools; that the charter schools in Detroit have failed; and that she’s determined to destroy public education.
“That is such a blatant falsehood,” DeVos says. “All these urban legends have become almost laughable they are so unbelievable.”
Wherever she goes, she’s greeted by protesters. Because of the threats against her, she still travels with several U.S. marshals — unprecedented security for an education secretary.
While the national rhetoric and media coverage is often the most negative, it’s not what she sees when she travels around the country on her school visits.
“When we are on the road and in local media markets, reporting is more balanced and fair — the East Coast corridor is the worst,” DeVos says.
Despite her critics, she is staying focused on why she agreed to take the job in the first place.
“This is a privilege to try to change the prospects for kids’ futures,” DeVos says. “Everything is new, and I’m just taking it as it comes. I’m really enjoying it.”
One of her frustrations, however, is the expansiveness of the department she runs with more than 4,000 federal employees.
“The bureaucracy is far more present and it’s far more formidable than I’d even feared,” DeVos says. “Getting anything done is a process, not an event. When you are oriented to getting things done, it can be frustrating.”
This month, DeVos took the controversial yet needed step of rescinding Obama-era Title IX guidelines related to campus sexual assault investigations. She is committed to returning due process to these campus courts which too often have stripped fairness from the proceedings and left accused young men without any recourse.
Yet her desire to stand for the civil liberties of all young people involved has been twisted by detractors as meaning DeVos doesn’t care about victims or catching rapists.
“That is very surprising,” she says. “It kind of speaks to a larger commentary to what people actually know and how they understand the founding of our country. It makes you concerned about the future. It really does. I can’t imagine being on a campus today.”
DeVos says she has received plenty of quiet support on this issue. She also hears from others who support her desire to create opportunities for all kids, whether in the form of a traditional public, charter or private schools. That’s still her mission, and she says more national attention has led to a growing momentum to expand choice in states.
“The reception, on balance, has been very good,” she says. “All those kinds of small encouragements go a long way to put the other stuff in perspective.”