Thousands of alumni from DeVos’s Christian alma mater oppose her appointment

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins Senior Religion Reporter, Think Progress

When billionaire Betsy DeVos was first floated as a potential pick for U.S. Secretary of Education in December 2016, it was quickly revealed that she once praised using taxpayer money to fund private and religious schools as a way to “advance God’s Kingdom.” Now that she’s President Donald Trump’s official nominee for the position, much has been made of her Christian faith and affinity for religious education—including her own schooling at Calvin College, a small Christian school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But if DeVos is hoping to garner support from her alma mater, she may be disappointed: More than 2,700 Calvin alumni have signed a petition opposing her nomination, saying she is “not qualified for the position” because she lacks a “strong commitment to public education.”

Calvin, a college of about 4,000 students, is affiliated with the conservative wing of the Calvinist—or “Reformed”—Christian tradition. Yet the alumni petition has a relatively progressive bent: It lists four core reasons why DeVos is a poor candidate for the position, such as her preference for advocacy over actual experience in education, or her apparent unfamiliarity with federal polices regarding publicly funded schools.

“We believe that any individual who is nominated to be Secretary of Education should have a strong commitment to public education, which Mrs. DeVos does not.”

Signers also criticized her apparent preference for Christian education.

“Many of us entered Calvin College directly from Christian high schools and spent our entire elementary and secondary school years in these institutions, as did Mrs. DeVos,” he petition reads. “While we appreciate the opportunity to thrive and learn that is provided by these educational systems, we recognize that the vast majority of K–12 students are educated in the public school system. Because of this, we believe that any individual who is nominated to be Secretary of Education should have a strong commitment to public education, which Mrs. DeVos does not.”

Sara Moslener, herself an educator and the author of the petition, told ThinkProgess that her opposition to DeVos’s nomination was rooted in her experience as a public school instructor.

“I am an educator at a public university, so this felt authentic — it wasn’t just resisting to resist. It was coming from me,” said Moslener, who works as a religion professor at Central Michigan University.

Moslener also expressed reservations with DeVos’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding student loans. She pointed to DeVos’s confirmation hearing, when she admitted to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) that neither she nor her children have ever relied on federal financial assistance to pay for schooling.

“Unless you have been through that experience, you just don’t know,” Moslener said. “For me, this is about addressing social inequality.”

“I think her views are pretty much on the margins of the views of most Calvin College graduates.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, another signer of the petition who works as a philosophical theology professor at Yale, articulated similar concerns.

“My worry is that she appears to be indifferent to the welfare to the public school system, whereas I think the public school system is a jewel of American democracy,” he said. “I think her views are pretty much on the margins of most Calvin College graduates.”

To be sure, some Calvin alumni have voiced support for DeVos. But others affiliated with Christian conservatism have also railed against her nomination. As Laura Turner notes in Politico, evangelical Christian leaders, seminary professors, and publications have all spoken out against the billionaire.

And despite the flurry of coverage regarding DeVos’s faith, most of her her conservative detractors did not decry her religious beliefs. Instead, they simply argue she isn’t right for the job, saying conservative Christians do not uniformly embrace regressive education policies.

“Christian liberal arts colleges are not monolithic,” Moslener said. “There is a lot of diversity there.”

Indeed, Calvin, despite its conservative theological leanings, has a history of progressive activism. When George W. Bush was invited to speak at the school’s commencement service in 2005, more than 800 students, faculty, and alumni published a letter in The Grand Rapids Press protesting his appearance. Roughly 100 of the school’s 300 faculty also signed a letter opposing the visit, saying Bush’s policies “favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.”

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This has been reposted from Think Progress.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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