Advance Notice: Briefs

Slotkin lashes out at DeVos for not meeting with Nassar survivors

By: - May 8, 2019 1:56 pm

“Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit at MSU, April 16, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Updated, 3:34 p.m. with comments from DeVos’ office

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) said she met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Tuesday to discuss sexual assault and harassment in K-12 schools and on college campuses.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin | Ken Coleman

Slotkin told the Advance last month she scheduled the meeting with DeVos, a fellow Michigander, because she wanted to encourage the secretary to meet with sexual abuse survivors. She also opposes DeVos’ proposed rule changes to Title IX, which have come under fire from survivors and advocates.

Michigan State University, which was rocked by the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal, is in Slotkin’s district, and she held a community discussion on sexual assault in Lansing last month. She said that DeVos’s proposed changes “would have shielded, and in some cases prohibited, MSU from taking action on the Title IX claims against Nassar.”

The congresswoman issued a statement on Wednesday that DeVos confirmed during the meeting that she has never met with Nassar survivors and “rejected Slotkin’s request to do so until after her proposed changes to Title IX are finalized.” Slotkin said DeVos gave a “long, legalistic response prepared by her attorneys as to why she couldn’t.

“The truth is that if she can meet with me to talk about sexual assault on college campuses, she should be able to meet with Nassar survivors. As a leader and a Michigander, she should want to hear from them,” she continued.

“I am deeply disappointed that Secretary DeVos — a Michigander and someone in a position of great leadership and authority to protect students’ safety and access to education — has never met with a survivor of Nassar’s abuse, a tragedy that has shaken the community to its core in our state. It appears she is ignoring the very lessons we have learned from the Nassar tragedy.”

DeVos explained in a letter to Slotkin that it would be “inappropriate” to talk to survivors because the department is investigating MSU’s response to the Nassar scandal.

DeVos spokeswoman Liz Hill noted in an email to the Advance that the department has two open investigations involving survivors and “it would be inappropriate for the Secretary to meet with anyone during the open investigation stage.” Hill also said that Slotkin’s characterization of the meeting with DeVos was not accurate.*

“Rep. Sloktin needs to stop using Nassar’s heinous crimes as banter for a press release.  By all accounts from those in the room, this hyperbolic press release does not reflect the actual tone or tenor of yesterday’s meeting,” Hill wrote.

Slotkin is helping lead a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate that has introduced legislation requiring university leaders to certify that they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by university employees.

DeVos made headlines this week while taking aim at the more than $500,000 salary of her nemesis on school choice, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, while speaking to a Baltimore conference.

Weingarten fired back in an exclusive interview with the Advance, in which she said DeVos should join with her in fighting for higher teacher pay, adding “we wouldn’t even need one of your yachts.”

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.