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

President to President, July 4-8, 2011

Vol. 12, No. 26

  • ​Debt Ceiling Negotiations Stall Other Work, Including Patent Bill
  • House Subcommittee Holds Gainful Employment Hearing
  • ED Requests Comments on Regulatory Process Improvements
  • AAAS Access and Diversity Workshops This Fall in Boston, Houston

Both the House and Senate are in town this week after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cancelled the Senate's usual July 4th recess to work on a deal to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling. Congress has until Aug. 2 to work out a compromise to increase the legal limit for government borrowing.

Although congressional leaders and President Obama have been in discussions on how to close wide gaps on the issues of spending cuts or new tax revenues, it is unclear at this point which of the three possible scenarios will occur: a small-scale, temporary fix; a broader, longer-term one; or no solution, which would end with the country defaulting on its debt. At the conclusion of talks yesterday, President Obama said negotiators would work through the weekend and that leaders would reconvene at the White House Sunday. The goal is to reach a deal within the next two weeks, with the likely scenario being a short-term fix to buy time for the drafting of legislative language for a more substantial deal.

Because of the focus on debt ceiling negotiations, votes in the Senate have come to a virtual standstill. The Senate planned to take up the patent reform bill passed by the House, now known as the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249), starting July 11. However, consideration has now been delayed, which gives us all additional time to contact senators and request their support for passage of H.R. 1249 without amendment.

The principal obstacle to Senate passage of the House measure is Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) objection to the modification of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revolving fund in the Senate patent reform bill (S. 23). This modification would largely remove the USPTO from the federal budget process, while H.R. 1249 would still require the patent office to get funding approval from Congress. We would have preferred the Senate bill's revolving fund; however, there is broad support in the patent community for the House version of USPTO funding as a viable alternative, and we are willing to support it.

Given the Senate's 95-5 vote in March for S. 23, and the bills' similarities, prospects are good that any obstacles to Senate passage of H.R. 1249 can be overcome in time. In the meantime, if the issue is of interest to your campus, please contact your senators. For full details, see our recent memo on H.R. 1249 as well as letters to the House and Senate on the bill.

The House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training this morning heard testimony on the Department of Education's gainful employment regulation, which is intended to ensure students who enroll in some higher education programs—especially those at for-profit schools—will earn enough money to repay their student loans. The first component of the gainful employment rule took effect July 1.

Held in conjunction with the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending, the hearing brought out no new arguments either in support of or against the rule. Called by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the panel was heavy on critics of any effort to regulate career programs—although as Dario Cortes, president of Berkeley College (NY), told committee members, no one really knows what effect the new rule will have.

The House hearing stands in contrast to one held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee last month, where Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA), a strong critic of the for-profit sector, said the gainful employment rule did not go far enough to protect students.

For a summary of the new rule, see this brief memo we prepared on the provisions now in effect as well as those effective July 1, 2012.

The Department of Education (ED) this week published a request for comments on its preliminary plan for a more effective and less burdensome regulatory program for schools, colleges and universities.

This plan is part of the executive order issued by President Obama last January directing federal agencies to drop rules that are outdated, ineffective or overly burdensome. ED is requesting public comment on its preliminary plan to review existing regulations to determine whether any of them should be modified, streamlined, expanded or repealed. Note that the turnaround time for comments is relatively short: They must be received on or before July 25, 2011. For more information, see the Federal Register.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has announced the first of two workshops in Phase 2 of a multi-year Law & Diversity project funded by the National Science Foundation.

The first workshop will be held Sept. 15-16, 2011, at Boston University (MA). It will focus on both faculty and student access and diversity issues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, while providing legal and policy guidance and resources applicable across all disciplines. A second workshop is scheduled for Rice University in Houston on Dec. 6-7.

Space is limited and institutions will be selected on a first-come basis. Information on registration and lodging is forthcoming. In the meantime, please send questions to project co-directors Jamie Lewis Keith, vice president and general counsel, University of Florida (jlkeith@ufl.edu); Daryl E. Chubin, director, AAAS Capacity Center (dchubin@aaas.org); or project counsel Art Coleman, managing partner of EducationCounsel, LLC (art.coleman@educationcounsel.com).

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE