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

White House Task Force Releases Sexual Assault Report, Recommendations

Vol. 15, No. 14 ~ April 28-May 2, 2014

  • White House Task Force Releases Sexual Assault Report, Recommendations
  • U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
  • Virginia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of U.Va. in FOIA Case
  • ACE, Groups Submit Testimony to Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing on Innovation
  • IN BRIEF: Bill Would Protect Private Loan Borrowers; ACE Files Brief in Accreditation Case; ED Regulation Update; Duncan Testifies on FY 2015 Budget; ACE Supports Terrorism Risk Insurance Act

Congress returned to work this week after a two-week spring break. We had news of two significant higher education legal cases in the interim, and there is more on those below.

The major higher education news in Washington this week was the release Tuesday by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault of its initial report. The task force report, based on information from students, administrators, law enforcement and other officials gathered over the past three months, includes new guidelines and suggested programs and policies to help prevent, identify and respond when an incident occurs on your campus.

Some of what is covered in the report—such as the requested climate survey to learn more about the prevalence of assault on campus—could require congressional legislation if it were to be mandatory in 2016 as the Task Force asks. We will be monitoring those possible developments closely in the coming months. However, the enhanced prevention programs, training for campus officials, reevaluation of sexual misconduct policies, and other information may be helpful to us in addressing this complex problem.

In conjunction with the report’s release, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a 52-point guidance document on Title IX, which gives additional information on legal obligations of colleges and universities to prevent, investigate and resolve reports of sexual assault. The new guidance builds on the instructions OCR issued in its 2011 Dear Colleague letter and follows the recent changes made to the Clery Act by the Campus SaVE Act.

On a related note, I have heard from several of you about recent comments by President Jimmy Carter, both in his book A Call to Action and in media interviews, taking college and university presidents to task over the issue of sexual assaults on campus. In response, I sent a letter last week to the former president assuring him that all college and university presidents are committed to safe, secure environments for all of our students and to undertaking the difficult work of changing the culture that can lead to sexual misconduct.

This will continue to be a highly visible issue, one that all of you are working hard to address on your campuses. I will keep you posted on developments as they occur in Washington.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled 6-2 to reverse the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and uphold Michigan’s voter-passed ban on the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions.

While we were disappointed by the ruling, we were gratified it does not alter the ability of public institutions in states other than Michigan to consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions, in accordance with the court's decision last year in Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. The court's Fisher ruling reaffirmed the concepts that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest.

To read the amicus brief we submitted in the Schuette case, click here. Also, see my letter to the editor of The New York Times on the decision here.

In another major case, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled April 17 in favor of the University of Virginia (U.Va.) in its attempt to protect researchers and their work from unwarranted access through the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The unanimous decision in the case American Tradition Institute v. the University of Virginia is the latest development in the university’s effort to protect various documents and emails relating to former U.Va. Professor Michael Mann’s climate change research, which was subject to attack by a number of activist organizations.

The court stressed that FOIA laws could put public universities at a competitive disadvantage versus private institutions if they are required to disclose research information and communications. The decision stated that “in the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.”

This decision supports the process whereby academic researchers brainstorm, debate, criticize and refine scientific hypotheses, a key point of the amicus brief ACE and other higher education groups filed in support of U.Va. last December.

Fifty science and research organizations, including ACE, called attention to the need for greater federal research funding in testimony submitted to Tuesday’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on “Driving Innovation Through Federal Investments.”

Our testimony continued the advocacy outlined in the “Close the Innovation Deficit” campaign, an effort to close the widening gap between the actual level of federal government funding for research and higher education and what the investment needs to be if the United States is to remain the world’s innovation leader.

The testimony was well-received on both sides of the aisle as committee members, Republicans and Democrats, echoed the organizations’ concerns over the course of the lengthy hearing.

IN BRIEF

You might have read The New York Times editorial Tuesday about a serious problem in the private student lending market highlighted by the Consumer Financial Protection Board last week. If a co-signer (such as a parent or grandparent) on a private student loan dies or declares bankruptcy, some lenders automatically declare the loan in default even if the borrower is completely current in making payments. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) has introduced a bill to require private lenders to give a student 90 days to find a new co-signer. You can read our letter of support for the measure here.

ACE signed on to an amicus brief filed April 16 in an accreditation case on appeal from a federal district court in Virginia, Professional Massage Training Center v. Accreditation Alliance of Career Schools and Colleges (AACSC). The district court judge ruled against AACSC in January after it revoked the school’s accreditation following an 18-month review process. The brief expresses concern that, if affirmed, the ruling could unravel the deference courts have historically extended to accrediting agencies, chill voluntary participation in the process by peer reviewers, and embolden other institutions to threaten litigation in an effort to overturn accrediting decisions.

Department of Education (ED) Regulation Update: The Obama administration is planning to move ahead this summer on new rules governing teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities. Read more on that effort in The Washington Post.

ED this week also proposed new eligibility requirements for Parent PLUS loans and circulated a revised version of its proposal to more tightly regulate campus debit cards and a second draft of its rewritten state authorization rule. The rulemaking panel will meet in Washington next Wednesday through Friday to discuss those proposals. The department also last week formally added a fourth negotiating session, which will take place May 19-20.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed the administration’s FY 2015 budget request for education this week before House and Senate committees. He appeared at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Tuesday, where committee members also asked pointed questions about the Obama administration’s regulatory approach to higher education. On Wednesday, he appeared before a Senate appropriations subcommittee. Webcasts of both hearings are available here and here.

We sent a letter to the leadership of the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs last week expressing support for reauthorizing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), currently set to expire at the end of 2014. Originally enacted in 2002, TRIA created a public-private risk sharing mechanism which has helped ensure that schools can purchase sufficient affordable insurance coverage to protect against losses resulting from a terrorist attack.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE