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President to President

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

President to President, September 17-21, 2012

Vol. 13, No. 29

 

  • House Approves Bill to Fund Government for Six Months; Senate to Act Soon 
  • OMB Previews Federal Budget Under Sequestration 
  • LEGAL BRIEFS: Victory for CU in Churchill Case; Court Rules Climate Scientist Does Not Have to Turn Over Emails 

Congress will soon leave town until after the election. As is our tradition, I will not be writing to you again until the post-election lame-duck session gets underway unless there is important news to share. 

The only planned goal for the week was passing a temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to keep the government funded at current levels through March 27, 2013, until the new Congress is sworn in and settles down to work on FY 2013 spending bills (and unless sequestration comes to bear in January).

The House approved the CR last week; however, the bill stalled in the Senate Thursday as one of four pieces of legislation bogged down in a political spat. A vote is expected this weekend, and President Obama has indicated he will sign the bill. 

Also facing the new Congress are the looming automatic cuts in spending across the federal government that will take effect Jan. 2 if lawmakers cannot devise a plan by the end of the year to reduce the deficit. This highly problematic situation, known as sequestration, was the subject of a report released last Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The effect of sequestration would be dramatically exacerbated by the expiration of "Bush-era tax cuts," including the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the expanded student loan interest deduction, expanded Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and employer-provided educational assistance (Sec. 127) benefits. This combination of budget cuts and tax increases is popularly known as "the fiscal cliff."

As expected, the impact on higher education would be significant. The only bright spot is that all Pell Grant funding is exempt from sequestration. Indeed, under current law, the maximum Pell award will increase slightly to $5,635 on July 1, 2013. But almost all other domestic funding of interest to higher education—Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-Study, TRIO, GEAR UP and funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF)—would be cut 8.2 percent. In the Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education, cuts would total $153 million from FY 2012 levels. Cuts in research funding would be huge—a projected drop of more than $2.5 billion at NIH and almost $600 million at NSF.

It goes without saying these cuts would be incredibly destructive to the higher education financing plans of students and families, as well as to campuses across the nation. In the last week, there have been increasing indications that federal policymakers would like to avoid the unnecessary showdown over taxes and spending and, as always, there are rumors of a compromise. Much depends on the outcome of the federal election.

LEGAL BRIEFS

The Colorado Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld the earlier rulings in the case Ward Churchill v. the University of Colorado (CU), resulting in a complete victory for the university. ACE submitted an amicus brief to the Colorado Supreme Court in the case, which centers around the university's 2007 firing of the former CU-Boulder professor for academic misconduct. The court picked up our arguments that quasi-judicial immunity will help to preserve the essential freedoms of an institution of higher education.

A county Circuit Court judge ruled Monday​ that climate scientist and former University of Virginia (U.Va.) professor Michael Mann's email correspondence is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, it does not have to be provided to the American Tradition Institute, which wants to examine the data behind Mann's conclusion that human activity causes climate change. Mann, who is now a faculty member at Penn State University, argued that his e-mails were not prepared in the conduct of public business but instead were internal deliberations between scientists. The case undoubtedly will be appealed, but we are optimistic that it will be resolved in the university's favor.

This is the second court case involving this issue. Earlier this year, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with U.Va. in its legal fight against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's investigation of Mann's research. I filed an affidavit in support of U.Va. in both cases, stating that if government is permitted to impinge upon the process whereby academic researchers brainstorm, debate, criticize and refine scientific hypotheses, it would threaten the free exchange of ideas that is so integral to the university environment.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE