Congress Returns, President Speaks: Fall Agenda Includes Jobs, Spending, Deficit
Senate Sends Patent Bill to President
Accreditation Task Force Meets
Nominations Open for ACE Board of Directors
IN BRIEF: ED Appeals State Authorization Decision; NIH Issues Final Conflict of Interest Rule; ACE Comments on Union Representation Proposals; ACE Fellows Program Taking Applications; NACUA Workshop on Compliance Programs
The House and Senate returned to work this week after a month-long recess to an agenda that focuses on the same issues they faced this summer: jobs, spending and the deficit.
President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress Thursday evening to present his jobs proposal, challenging lawmakers to enact a sweeping package of tax cuts and new spending intended to stimulate the sluggish job market. Much of the plan, known as the American Jobs Act, is centered on aid to K-12 education, including $25 billion to modernize and rebuild approximately 35,000 schools. Community colleges would receive $5 billion to help with infrastructure, though no details on how the funds would be allocated are yet available. The president once again indicated strong support for research and development—giving a nod to the patent bill passed yesterday (see below)—but did not propose any specific programs. He spoke today at the University of Richmond (VA), where he called on Congress to pass his plan.
Also on Thursday, the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (popularly known as the "Super Committee") held its first official meeting. The committee has until Nov. 23 to identify $1.5 trillion in cuts to the federal budget over the next 10 years. If Congress does not pass the committee's plan by Dec. 22, automatic budget cuts go into effect in 2013. It remains to be seen exactly how the committee will define its task; many observers believe it will not reach the objective and automatic cuts will follow. Yesterday's meeting reportedly was filled with behind-the-scenes tension and Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) threatened to quit afterward, so the process promises to be interesting.
Looking ahead, a primary issue for the next several months is passage of the 12 appropriation bills to fund federal agencies for FY 2012, which begins Oct. 1. So far the House has approved only half of those bills and the Senate just one, and no bills have been approved by both. As in past years, they will have to agree on temporary stopgap extensions to avoid a government shutdown.
The situation is a little easier this year because the debt and budget pact sets the overall total for federal spending at $1.043 trillion in FY 2012, a $7 billion cut from current levels. Still, there is likely to be heated debate as Democrats seek to restore cuts planned by Republicans to education and other programs. Despite the additional $17 billion provided for the Pell Grant Program in the debt limit legislation, an additional $1.3 billion above the debt limit bill funding is needed to maintain a maximum grant of $5,550 for the 2012-13 academic year.
After rejecting three amendments, the Senate yesterday voted 89-9 to approve the House version of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (H.R. 1249).
The final version of this much-delayed legislation is a thorough, balanced measure that will bring the patent system into the 21st century. When the president signs this legislation, as he has said he will, he will set in motion reforms that will strengthen our nation's capacity to innovate and expand our economy's potential for growth and prosperity. (See our full statement on the bill here.)
The bill will move the U.S. patent system from a first-to-invent to a first-inventor-to-file system, which most other countries currently use. This should simplify the patent application process and enable U.S. inventors to compete more effectively in the global economy. The measure also includes a number of other provisions that will improve patent quality and reduce litigation costs, including a post-grant opposition proceeding as an alternative to litigation for challenging patent validity.
My sincere thanks to Association of American Universities' Executive Vice President John Vaughn for leading the association community's advocacy efforts throughout this long process.
Our National Task Force on Institutional Accreditation met yesterday for the second time.
We heard from a variety of experts who addressed different issues related to regional accreditation. Their ideas led to a robust discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, including the quality and extent of student learning, how the process currently works, our communication with the public and concerns expressed by policymakers.
We are on track to release a report next year and I am optimistic it will include several workable suggestions that will provide strong guidance for higher education moving forward. I thank our presenters for providing such thought-provoking commentary as well as the panel for its ongoing efforts.
We are looking for nominees for new members and officers for the ACE Board of Directors, and I would like to encourage you to apply or nominate a colleague who might be willing to serve. ACE Board members represent institutions from all sectors and participate in critical discussions on current higher education issues.
The nominating committee will meet Sept. 26, 2011, to develop a slate of officers and Board members that will be voted on by the ACE membership during the Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in March 2012. A vice chair, a secretary and eight members for a term ending March 2015 will be selected. The ACE constitution states that the vice chair shall be selected from current Board members in their second or third year. The secretary shall be selected from Board members with at least one year remaining in their term. Additionally, two higher education associations will be selected to appoint representatives to serve a one-year term.
The list of current Board members, including those whose terms expire in March 2012, is available on the ACE website. Nominations and brief vitae if available should be submitted by Sept. 16, 2011. An electronic submission form is available for your convenience, or nominations can be emailed to ACE_Nominating_Committee@acenet.edu. You may also send nominations to Ada Meloy by mail or fax to (202) 833-4762. Please direct questions or comments to Ada at email@example.com.
The Department of Education yesterday appealed the July 12 decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia which struck down the portion of the department's state authorization rule requiring distance education programs to get authorization in every state where they have students. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) filed suit against the department in January, challenging regulations on three topics from the department's Oct. 29, 2010, program integrity rule: (1) state authorization, (2) misrepresentation and (3) incentive compensation. While the court struck down the distance education portion of the state authorization regulation, it dismissed APSCU's challenges to these other regulations.
After more than two years of deliberations, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Aug. 23 issued updated conflict-of-interest regulations that create more substantial reporting requirements for federally funded investigators and their institutions. In keeping with draft regulations proposed in May 2010, the final policy lowers the threshold at which an investigator's financial interest must be declared from $10,000 to $5,000. Previous guidelines, set in 1995, required institutions to simply report an investigator's financial conflict of interest and whether it was being managed, decreased or eliminated. Now institutions must also provide some detail as to how they are dealing with the conflict. However, we were very pleased to see that the final rules do not require universities to post online details of the specific financial conflicts. (Click here to see the comments submitted by ACE and other higher education groups on the draft regulations.)
ACE, along with several other higher education associations, filed comments Aug. 22 on proposed regulations from the National Labor Relations Board which would amend some of the procedures governing union representation efforts. The comments raised concerns about how the proposed regulations might prove problematic for private institutions.
The ACE Fellows Program, the preeminent higher education leadership development program, is accepting nominations for the Class of 2012-13 through Nov. 1. The ACE Fellows Program prepares individuals for senior-level leadership in colleges and universities. Open to individuals from two- and four-year institutions, the Fellows Program seeks candidates who have a solid record of achievement at or above the level of department chair or program director, or in another position with institution-wide responsibilities. Information and program materials are now available at www.acenet.edu/programs/fellows.
The National Association of College and University Attorneys has scheduled a workshop Nov. 9-11 on college and university compliance programs. The workshop will cover the latest developments in design and administration of effective institutional compliance and enterprise risk management programs. It also will also address the legal compliance obligations in many key areas of the law, including intercollegiate athletics, data privacy and security, and student speech and first amendment issues, among others. The early registration deadline is Oct. 14.
Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE