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

President to President, January 31-February 4, 2011

Vol. 12, No. 5

  • House to Complete FY 2011 Appropriations
  • Durbin Talks Student Aid Funding at NAICU Meeting; Senate For-Profit Hearing Scheduled for Feb. 17
  • ACE Asks Supreme Court to Hear Religious Activities Funding Case
  • Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Patent Reform Measure
  • Jonathan R. Cole Among Featured Speakers at ACE's Annual Meeting

As Washington and the world have been transfixed this week by events in Egypt, the Senate quietly voted down the bill to repeal the health care reform law and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, while the House continued laying the groundwork to complete work on FY 2011 appropriations.

As I have noted before, Congress has not yet finalized the FY 2011 budget, despite being four months into the fiscal year. The government has been operating under a series of short-term spending bills called continuing resolutions (CR), with the current one set to expire March 4. Congress must finalize the budget by that date or enact another CR to keep the government running.

On Thursday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) announced the funding levels each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees will have to work with in fashioning legislation to complete the FY 2011 budget. As expected, the levels for all subcommittees except defense are reduced from those approved for FY 2010. The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee—responsible for student aid and scientific research at the National Institutes of Health—will have $6.585 billion less to work with than in FY 2010.

The results of these efforts will be announced next week, and the House expects to begin voting on the FY 2011 budget the week of Feb. 14. Given the likelihood of significant cuts, all of the higher education organizations are watching this process very carefully. David Warren and I, as co-chairs of the Student Aid Alliance, sent a letter on Tuesday to House Budget and Appropriations Committee leaders, requesting that they maintain student aid funding in the final FY 2011 bill.

President Obama will release his budget for FY 2012 on Feb. 14, and once Congress has completed work on the FY 2011 spending bill, they also will turn their attention to the next fiscal year. Once again, budget cuts are expected to be the order of the day, and federal student aid is obviously a possible target.

In other congressional news, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) gave a very timely speech on the need to protect Pell Grants and other education funding at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) meeting Tuesday. He brought up many concerns—including the poor treatment of students at some for-profit schools—we have been monitoring and will continue to discuss moving forward. You can read the text of his talk here, and NAICU has posted the full speech, including the Q&A, here.

Also this week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee announced that the panel's next hearing on for-profit colleges is scheduled for Feb. 17. The agenda has not yet been released so we do not know the focus of the hearing, but I will let you know when details are available. However, the Department of Education did release new data this morning showing a sharp rise in the for-profit student loan default rate, so I suspect that report will be discussed. (See The Chronicle of Higher Education for an overview of the data.)

We submitted an amicus brief this week to the U.S. Supreme Court requesting that it review a federal appeals court ruling that requires the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison to fund religious worship activities.

In a Sept. 1, 2010, decision in the case David G. Walsh v. Badger Catholic, Inc., the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the university's decision to deny a small portion of funding requested by Badger Catholic, a registered student organization at UW-Madison, violated Badger Catholic's First Amendment right to free speech.

The case was first brought in September 2007 after the Roman Catholic Foundation, now known as Badger Catholic, received $218,000 in student fee support rather than the requested $253,000. The university declined to approve roughly $35,000 earmarked for six religious worship activities due to its policy not to fund worship, proselytizing, and religious instruction, a policy it maintains is protected by the First Amendment. However, both the federal district and circuit courts concluded that funding the religious activities of a student group does not violate the First Amendment.

The UW Board of Regents filed the petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2010. If the court grants the petition, the case would be scheduled for oral arguments and briefs sometime in 2011.

The Patent Reform Act of 2011 (S. 23) moved forward yesterday as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-0 to approve the measure, which was authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

Along with a number of other education and research groups, we strongly support this legislation as the most effective way to streamline and update the patent system so that it works to better encourage innovation and economic growth. The bill now goes to the full Senate—the third such measure to do so since 2008—but it is unclear at this point when exactly that will be. The House has yet to begin work on its version of the bill.

Among the distinguished speakers at ACE's Annual Meeting March 5-8, 2011, is Jonathan R. Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and former provost and dean of faculties at Columbia University and author of The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensible National Role, Why It Must Be Protected. I hope you'll join me as he leads a sure-to-be provocative panel Tuesday morning entitled "The Great American University: A National Treasure." Visit the website to view the full schedule of programming and to register.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE