It may probably be too soon to draw parallels, but the controversies surrounding the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos in the past weeks already seem like deja vu for many Indians with respect to Smriti Irani. A tenure that started and ended on the high of controversies for former HRD Minister Smriti Irani, was much talked about until her transfer to the Textile Ministry in July last year. Similarly, the newly appointed Secretary of Education in the US, Betsy DeVos too has gathered enough flak even before she took office. As both leading ladies of this article have or will in a way affect Indian students aspiring to study in the US, here’s a 3-pointer on the similarities between the two.
Who is more educated afterall?
Both ladies begun their tenure in the Department with opposition to their educational qualifications. While Irani had trouble simply proving that she had indeed acquired a graduate degree, DeVos was riddled with the task of proving the credibility of her degree from Calvin College. The Obama administration, in the past 8 years has displayed a portfolio of cabinet members with the highest educational qualifications, the Education Secretary alone, being a PhD from Yale University. Such predecessors made it difficult for DeVos to maintain a stand amidst criticizers who were expecting a Secretary with more academic experience like a professor or researcher. (See images below)
Nonetheless, what US citizens are rallying for today in case of DeVos, we Indians rallied for it two years ago in the case of Irani. The importance we lay on degrees held by an Education Minister and the controversies we build with it seem to be similar on both shores.
Tricks to be famous on Twitter
Smriti Irani had a huge following on twitter, and maintained an active profile frequently communicating with students and parents. Despite that, none of her tweets and activities attracted so much attention as did her transfer from HRD Minister to Textile Minister. Her transfer invited all sorts of tweets with comments on her ‘saas-bahu’ heritage, and shift from ‘padhai-likhai’ to ‘silai-bunai’. Even during her tenure, she entered into some twitter spats; the prominent one being slamming a Bihar minister for addressing her as ‘Dear’ which earned her the tag of ‘drama queen’ thereafter.
A similar twitter saga is now playing out with Betsy DeVos, as a single tweet on US President Donald Trump’s inauguration day invited over 1500 tweets trolling her for incorrect use of grammar, thus regarding her ineligible to handle the office of an Education Secretary. In the first week of holding office, she has already drawn flak from criticizers on Twitter, to an extent of making her trend on the micro-blogging platform.
So is the trick to trend on Twitter negative publicity?
How to control public education?
Betsy DeVos has famously been a supporter of charter schools and for profit institutes since her activism days in Michigan. As Secretary of Education, she has already stated in press conferences her proposals to bring funds to public institutes. Her rally is to dissolve the Education Department, that currently looks into the functioning of public institutes. Thus, inevitably bringing the strings of public education completely into her hands (Read here).
Contrary to this was the approach used by Smriti Irani, who indirectly intervened in the functioning of autonomous institutes like the IITs and IIMs. As reported by resigned chairs of some prestigious institutes like IIT Delhi, Irani’s interference in the affairs of the university made it difficult for them to function (link).
Clearly, both the ladies come from a perspective of controlling the internal affairs of institutes either public or autonomous, much to the displeasure of the institute chairs.