No one has written more incisively and even-handedly about controversial issues on campus than the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Peter Schmidt. Thus it was both surprising and disappointing to see him describe Dept. of Education nominee Betsy DeVos’s recent statements about Title IX enforcement as “divisive.”
“Divisive,” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary on my computer, means “tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people.” That definition also comes up first on Google. By that (or any reasonable) definition, the Obama administration’s 2011 Title IX Guidance is “divisive.” It makes no more sense to label those who have questions or reservations about that policy “divisive” than those who support it.
Peter Schmidt should — and, fortunately, usually does — know better. If the Trump administration modifies or rescinds the 2011 guidance, or the similarly administratively imposed transgender bathroom policy, will Schmidt describe critics of those changes as “divisive”? I hope, and think, not.
UPDATE: There They Go Again… 27 January
Today’s “Daily Briefing,” a newsletter The Chronicle sends to subscribers, has more on the “divisive” DeVos nomination. Discussing today’s article, “Why Trump’s Billionaire Nominee Has Awakened Such Fierce Opposition,” the newsletter authors refer to the heated opposition of the teacher unions, the concern about her reservations over the Obama administration’s sexual assault policies, etc., and finally, revealingly, “general Democratic opposition to President Trump’s nominees, [which] makes for a particularly divisive nomination.”
It may seem like a difficult task, trying to discover and decipher the criteria used by reporters and their editors to determine exactly who or what is “divisive.” On what basis do they conclude, for example, that this is “a particularly divisive nomination” rather than that it is “general Democratic opposition to President Trump’s nominees that is “divisive”?
In real life, however, or at least in the academic and much of the mainstream press, this task is actually not difficult at all. Insofar as what the Chronicle article discussed in today’s “Daily Brief” calls “the backlash” against Mrs. DeVos is “fueled … by deep partisan divisions and the president’s own unpopularity,” the only way President Trump could have made a nomination that was not “divisive” was to nominate a person not opposed by the Democrats.