USA Education First Look

Did Betsy DeVos plagiarize some answers in her Senate questionnaire? (+video)

In her written responses to questions from Senate Democrats, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos seems to have lifted quotations from an Obama administration official.

President Trump's nominee for the secretary of Education, millionaire Betsy DeVos, testifies on Capitol Hill on January 17.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/File | Caption

Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos may have plagiarized an Obama administration official when responding to senators’ questions regarding her qualifications for the job.

Unsatisfied with Ms. DeVos’s answers to limited questions during a confirmation hearing earlier this month, senators sent more than 1,000 followup inquiries her way. In response to Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington’s question as to how she would address bullying of LGBT students, DeVos responded: “Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow.”

As The Washington Post first reported, those lines carry a striking similarity to remarks made by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of Obama's Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

In a 2016 press statement vowing to protect the rights of transgender students, Gupta wrote, "Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow.”

Some have come to DeVos’s defense, noting that the general language and common sentiments don’t make the coincidence a clear-cut case for plagiarism accusations.

“This is character assassination,” Rob Goad, a White House education adviser, told the Post in an email. “The secretary designate has long been referencing the need for safe and supportive learning environments, free of discrimination, for all students, so that they can learn, achieve, thrive, grow and lead successful productive lives.”

DeVos has faced significant opposition since President Trump nominated her for the position. Still, the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee voted to confirm her appointment on Tuesday. Democrats continue to levy opposition to her nomination, arguing that she lacks proper experience and expertise to perform the role’s duties, hoping to sway just a few Republican senators to vote against her confirmation.

In addition to DeVos's response on bullying, some of her other responses to the long list of questions have raised concerns about DeVos's knowledge of the field, according to the Post. Several answers are near or verbatim quotes of federal statutes or information on government websites, used with citation.

While the responses bore DeVos’s name, it’s unclear what role any aides may have played in helping her to respond to the lengthy list of inquiries.

Other high-profile plagiarism scandals have surrounded the 2016 election and new administration, including accusations that Melania Trump lifted lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech and that Monica Crowley, Mr. Trump’s initial pick for senior communications director of the National Security Council, used more than 50 plagiarized phrases in her book.

As The Christian Science Monitor previously reported, the recurring incidents have led some to question if plagiarism scandals matter in politics as much as they do in academia or publishing.

"In politics, it’s not clear that we have an agreed-upon code of conduct, so the ethics almost blend sort of directly into the politics," Michael Carroll, a law professor at American University, previously told the Monitor. "If the people don't have a problem with it, is there some other reason to think it's a problem?"