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Betsy DeVos just gave the fight for campus free speech a powerful new ally

Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos has chosen a controversial, but proven advocate for campus First Amendment rights to take an important position within her department. (Getty Images)

While the world was focused on the James Comey hearing this week, Secretary of the Department of Education Betsy DeVos was busy picking a First Amendment crusader to be deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs.

The Department of Education administers programs that broaden access to higher education, strengthens the capacity of colleges and universities, and coordinates a number of higher education-related activities with states, according to the department's website.

Adam Kissel, DeVos' pick, is a 5-year veteran of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that focuses on free speech and due process on college campuses.

From 2007 to 2012, Kissel worked with FIRE as director of the Individual Rights Defense Program and vice president of Programs. Kissel, with FIRE, not only opposed violations of First Amendment rights on campus, but the efforts of colleges and universities that abused internal disciplinary measures, while ignoring the due process rights of students who were accused of sexual misconduct.

According to College Fix, Kissel also worked on issues pertaining to Bucknell University's punishment of affirmative action bake sales, the disruption of an Israeli ambassador's speech at UC-Irvine, and the defense of a Brooklyn College professor who faced an investigation into his beliefs by the college's "Integrity Committee" for openly criticizing perceived indoctrination and ideological discrimination by college staff.

Kissel left FIRE in 2012 to work with the Charles Koch Foundation, where he became the senior program officer in university investments. He has been there ever since.

Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, released a statement from the Senate committee's website where she lambasted Kissel for his support of "a higher burden of proof for survivors of sexual violence on college campuses," and his work with an "organization that supported legal challenges against the Department’s guidance on campus sexual assault."

“I am deeply troubled this hire is another concerning sign that President [Donald] Trump plans to make it more difficult for survivors of campus sexual violence to get justice," said Murray in the statement. "Campus sexual violence is an urgent public health threat nationwide, and rolling back steps that have empowered more survivors of sexual violence to come forward will only send this problem back into the shadows. If there was ever a president who needed to take issues of sexual assault more seriously, it’s President Trump — and this is yet another indication his administration is falling disturbingly short.”

This is not the first time DeVos has picked a controversial figure to fill an important role within the Education Department. In April, DeVos chose Candice Jackson, a member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute — a think tank of free market libertarian scholars — to be the deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights. Jackson is known for her opposition to feminism, and race-based college programs.

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