Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, said at her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that she could not commit to Obama administration guidelines on how schools and colleges handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
"It would be premature of me to do that," she said, responding to questioning from Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) before the Senate Education Committee.
"Assault in any form is never OK, and I just want to be very clear on that," said DeVos, 59, a conservative advocate on education and daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, the billionaire cofounder of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic.
"If confirmed, I look forward to understanding the past actions and the current administration better, and to ensuring that the intent of the law is actually carried out in a way that recognizes both the victim, the rights of the victim, as well as those who are accused," she said.
Casey specifically was referring to the 2011 Department of Education guidelines for aggressively investigating allegations of assault and harassment.
While embraced by advocates for the survivors of sexual assault, the guidelines have sparked controversy because they outline new procedures that some institutions dependent on federal money feel compelled to follow.
The Department of Education has been accused of sidestepping the legally binding regulatory process, which takes time and requires public input.
And some of the changes are not universally welcome.
For example, the guidelines call disciplining an accused student based on a majority of evidence rather than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. The labeling of certain acts as harassment has been criticized as infringing on free speech.
Casey, in a statement issued after the exchange, made his views on DeVos known.
"It is not 'premature' for a nominee to be Secretary of Education to commit to enforcing campus sexual assault laws," Casey said. "We've come too far and have too far to go on campus sexual assaults to go back to the days of zero accountability. A sexual assault is the ultimate betrayal and the students of our nation deserve a Secretary of Education who will stand up for them, not one unwilling to commit to enforcing basic campus sexual assault protections."