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Official who led witch hunts against accused students tries to take down DeVos

Commissioners dissent from ‘verdict-first, trial-later’ statement

Catherine Lhamon turned the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into a lawless federal inquisitor as its chief in President Obama’s second term, ordering colleges to take away accused students’ rights or lose their federal funding.

From her new perch as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, she is trying to kneecap the secretary of education, whose practice of ask-first-shoot-later is deeply offensive to witch-hunter Lhamon.

A majority of the commission voted Friday to begin a “comprehensive two-year assessment of federal civil rights enforcement,” including at Betsy DeVos’s* Department of Education:

The review will examine the degree to which current budgets and staffing levels allow civil rights offices to perform their statutory and regulatory functions, the management practices in place in the offices and whether these practices are sufficient to meet the volume of civil rights issues within the offices’ jurisdiction, and the efficacy of recent resolution efforts from the offices. …

Department of Education – The proposed budget calls for reducing staffing by 7 percent (losing 46 full time equivalent positions) at the department’s Office for Civil Rights, which investigates sex, race, disability, and age based civil rights complaints. The proposed budget itself reflects that the cutbacks would result in an untenable caseload of 42 cases per staff member. These proposed cuts are particularly troubling in light of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ repeated refusal in Congressional testimony and other public statements to commit that the Department would enforce federal civil rights laws.

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You want to know why OCR is so backlogged? Because under Lhamon, it investigated every claim as if the office were uncovering the greatest coverup since Watergate.

That practice was recently ended by the acting chief of OCR, Candice Jackson, who told her field staff to only open “systemic” investigations of targeted schools (i.e., look beyond filed complaints at each institution) if the evidence led there.

This patently false claim that DeVos has repeatedly refused to “commit [to] enforce” the law got called out as pure BS at Friday’s meeting, Politico reports:

Commissioner Gail Heriot, a political independent and law professor at the University of San Diego, said the line about DeVos was “utterly over the top” and sought unsuccessfully to have it removed.

“At no time did she say that she would not enforce federal civil rights law,” Heriot said of DeVos. “She has a different interpretation of what those laws require.”

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But Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon, who oversaw the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration, said the statement doesn’t say DeVos won’t enforce civil rights law — only that she’s refused to commit to it.

Heriot disagreed, saying, “That’s not true. She interprets the statutes differently than you.”

Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, a Republican who has defended the civil rights of religious institutions and students, also voted against the resolution because of its “verdict-first, trial-later” language.

Due process advocates pushed for Heriot to be appointed OCR’s permanent chief earlier this year, citing her skepticism of kangaroo courts that deny due process to accused students in order to protect cowardly college administrators from rape-culture activists and their friends in Obama’s OCR.

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Heriot and Kirsanow – who were congressional appointees, unlike presidential appointee Lhamon – opposed a massive budget increase for OCR two years ago, writing:

Though OCR may claim to be under-funded, its resources are stretched thin largely because it has so often chosen to address violations it has made up out of thin air. Increasing OCR’s budget would in effect reward the agency for frequently over-stepping the law. It also would provide OCR with additional resources to undertake more ill-considered initiatives for which it lacks authority.

Read the commission statement and Politico report.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.