The person that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently put in charge of her agency’s Office of Civil Rights is drawing a chorus of criticism from civil rights advocates and scholars over her historical hostility to racial preferences and other ideological stances — including having once complained that she was discriminated against for being White.
The Department of Education announced last week that attorney Candice Jackson had been appointed by DeVos as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, as well as acting assistant secretary.
That is problematic for Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who said the appointment proves that Secretary DeVos is “not taking her civil rights responsibilities seriously.”
“The civil rights community has seen troubling signs in Ms. Jackson’s writings and in her past hostility to civil rights and the value of diverse student bodies,” Henderson said. “This appointment calls into question Secretary DeVos’ understanding of, and commitment to, the mission of the Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights — to ensure all students equal access to education.”
Dr. Erica Frankenberg, associate professor of education and demography and co-director at the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Pennsylvania State University, said it is concerning that Jackson once claimed she was discriminated against for being White.
“The equating of being conscious of race (e.g., the practice that she was protesting) with discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity that many students continue to experience in our nation’s public schools and universities is very misleading,” Frankenberg wrote in an e-mail response to Diverse.
“I am concerned that it reflects a belief that may stifle efforts to further the implementation of policies and practices that will try to remedy the racial inequality that exists, and does not show an understanding of the ways in which the nation’s history of racial discrimination have resulted in a society in which opportunity is not equally available,” Frankenberg said.
Frankenberg said it is important for the leader of the Office of Civil Rights — also known as OCR — to “understand its historical and contemporary meaning for students to be fully welcomed and included in all aspects of school/university life.”
“The federal government has a major role to play in protecting students from discrimination, and OCR under the Obama administration has been active in both investigating complaints as well as issuing guidance to schools and universities to understand how to eliminate barriers in our institutions that may prevent full access to participation,” Frankenberg said. “It is concerning then that her prior writings do not display a complexity of today’s society and the issues that remain as barriers for students of color.”
So what is it that Jackson has written that has civil rights leaders and scholars so concerned?
A recent article by ProPublica identified a series of writings by Jackson over the years — including during her time as a college student — including one in which she protests affirmative action as something that “promotes racial discrimination.”
“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote in an op-ed during her senior year at Stanford University. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”
She also lamented as an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford how she felt after she learned that a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems was reserved for minority students, according to the ProPublica article.
“I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review, the article states. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”
In later years, Jackson has praised and helped edit the writings of Murray N. Rothbard, who has called compulsory education for minors a “criminal offense to their natures,” described the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous,” and criticized a portion of the act that prohibited employment discrimination as “a horrendous invasion of the property rights of the employer.”
Jackson — a graduate of the Pepperdine University School of Law — ran her own West Coast law firm from 2009 until earlier this month, when she accepted the federal post, according to her LinkedIn profile. It says she represented clients “in litigation, business organization, entertainment, employment, and other matters.”
“I have enjoyed working for a wide range of clients, from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to independent filmmakers and record labels, as well as employees, students, and citizens whose civil rights may have been violated,” her profile states. “I also appreciate staying connected to my alma maters, Stanford University and Pepperdine University School of Law.
“I believe in being part of a team to help any person, business, or creative endeavor succeed, achieve dreams, correct injustices, and make the world a better place.”
Diverse reached out to Jackson via her LinkedIn profile but did not hear back from her before deadline.
Her critics, however, had no shortage of criticisms to convey.
Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA, described Jackson’s appointment as an apparent continuation of the Trump administration’s “strategic placement of staff members at the head of departments that they are opposed to.”
“Jackson has little-to-no previous experience in civil rights enforcement,” Losen said. “All evidence suggests that Donald Trump violated civil rights laws in housing, he made racist statements frequently on the campaign trail and appointed Senator Sessions, a man with an anti-civil rights law track record, to be the attorney general.
“Although Jackson does not have a clear track record in civil rights, given this context, and the decision to appoint someone with no positive prior association with enforcing civil rights law, we have grave concerns about this appointment,” Losen said.
Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.