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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Campus Sexual Assault Legislation

July 28-August 1, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 26

  • Senators Introduce Campus Sexual Assault Legislation
  • Congress Approves Veterans Bill Which Includes In-state Tuition Provision
  • IN BRIEF: Higher Education Leaders Attend Transatlantic Dialogue

Congress leaves today for its five-week August recess, after a busy four days of trying to complete as much as possible before the break. (President to President will also be on hiatus until after Labor Day.) When lawmakers return, midterm elections will dominate the scene, leaving the legislative agenda—including Higher Education Act reauthorization—uncertain.

A bipartisan group of eight senators, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), unveiled a bill Wednesday morning aimed at mitigating sexual assaults on college campuses, the culmination of her months of work on this important issue.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) is a mixed bag of good ideas and missed chances, and carries stiff new penalties for institutions that do not comply. Under the bill, all colleges and universities in the country would be required to survey students about their experiences with sexual violence. New, streamlined procedures would prohibit Athletics Departments from handling investigations of athletes accused of assault. One provision would require institutions to designate professionally trained, confidential advisors to coordinate support services for survivors of sexual assault—a welcome improvement over the current confusion of federal policy in this area.

Colleges that do not comply with the new rules could face fines of up to 1 percent of their operating budgets. The bill would also increase the maximum penalty for a violation of the Clery Act from $35,000 to $150,000.

While we continue to appreciate the senator’s efforts on campus sexual assault, we wish the legislation would have included certain other provisions, such as clear and consistent guidance on how to respond to a sexual assault report. As many of you know, currently there are multiple agencies and regulations, from the Department of Education to the Department of Justice and from the Clery Act to Title IX, providing often confusing and overlapping guidance.

We also need the federal government to make it possible for colleges and universities to work effectively with local law enforcement agencies. Currently, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights requires institutions to resolve sexual assault cases within 60 days—while a worthy goal, this is a frequently impossible time frame when working with law enforcement officials.

The bill’s other sponsors include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Dean Heller (R-NV), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA). We look forward to working with them all in the coming months on legislation that will help us provide the safest possible campuses for our students.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) plans to introduce an identical bill in the House.

Both the House and Senate this week voted overwhelmingly to approve a $16.3-billion compromise bill to overhaul the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department and speed up veterans’ access to healthcare. It now goes to President Obama, who has pledged to sign it into law.

The measure is aimed primarily at addressing serious the scheduling problems facing the VA that came to light last spring. But it also includes a provision requiring public institutions to charge all veterans and their dependents, regardless of their actual residence, no more than the in-state tuition rate for a period of three years post-discharge, in order for those institutions to remain eligible for Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

The in-state tuition provision will be effective July 2015, which is a short turn-around time for states and higher education institutions to revise their laws and policies in this area.

IN BRIEF

I would like to thank all of the participants who attended the recent Transatlantic Dialogue held in June in Toronto, the 14th biennial meeting between higher education leaders representing ACE, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the European University Association. Members of the three associations discussed our shared challenges of ensuring public trust and higher education accountability. Joining me were Patricia Hsieh (San Diego Miramar College, CA), Anne Kress (Monroe Community College, NY), Carol Long (SUNY Geneseo), James B. Milliken (City University of New York), Nancy McCallin (Colorado Community College System), James Mullen (Allegheny College, PA), and Kevin Reilly (University of Wisconsin System, and ACE presidential advisor for leadership).

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE