dotEDU Live: How Congress Is Responding to Campus Unrest


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired May 16, 2024

In this episode, Jon and Sarah discuss the campus protests that have been making headlines nationwide and how Congress and the Biden administration are responding to these concerns in Washington. They also talk about state challenges to the new Title IX regulations, some positive news regarding the rollout of the new FAFSA, a congressional hearing on legislation to help DACA recipients, and more. .

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

House Passes Antisemitism Bill With Broad Bipartisan Support Amid Campus Arrests
NBC News | May 1, 2024

Bill Summary: The Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023 (H.R. 6090/S. 4127)
American Council on Education

Dear Colleague Letter: Protecting Students from Discrimination, such as Harassment, Based on Race, Color, or National Origin, Including Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics
Department of Education | May 7, 2024

The Campus Speech vs. Safety Tightrope: A Conversation With Fred Lawrence
American Council on Education | May 13, 2024

Education Department Boosts FAFSA Outreach Efforts to Close Completion Gap
Higher Ed Dive | May 6, 2024

Dreamers Urge Protections in Senate Hearing on Immigrant Youth
NBC News | May 8, 2024

US Committee Targets Georgia Tech’s Alleged Ties to Chinese Military Linked Research
Reuters | May 9, 2024

2024 Changes to the Title IX Regulations: What Campuses Need to Know Now
American Council on Education | April 29, 2024

Resources on Title IX and Campus Sexual Assault Regulations
American Council on Education

Over 20 GOP-Led States Sue Biden Administration Over Title IX Rules for LGBTQ Students
NBC News | May 8, 2024

Political Standoff Over Title IX Puts Red State Colleges in No-Win Situation
Inside Higher Ed | May 14, 2024


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Welcome to the May edition of dotEDU Live. I am your host, Jon Fansmith, and I am joined, as always, by my co-host, Sarah Spreitzer. Hey there, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Jon. Happy rainy Tuesday to you.

Jon Fansmith: Yes. For those of you not in DC.

Sarah Spreitzer: I don’t know what else to say.

Jon Fansmith: That’s as much enthusiasm as you can muster? You got to step it up a little bit, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I mean, spring is here. Congress is back. Lots going on.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. I will say, normally we wait to take questions until after we’ve talked at least a little bit. But one of the questions that was submitted in advance by a wonderful colleague, Betsy Boyd, I think kind of sums up the mood you’re getting from Sarah and I. And Betsy’s question was simply, “Why is Congress like this?” And really, Betsy, and anyone else in the audience, feel free to share your thoughts because I think we are certainly still puzzling that one out. But there is a lot to talk about, right, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, a lot to talk about. A lot happening. I don’t know how much of it impacts higher education. Jon, Congress was spending all their time on the FAA reauthorization, which had to get done, and then a whole bunch of people are up in New York today for President Trump’s trial. So they’re making a lot of noise, they’re introducing a lot of legislation, whether or not it’s actually doing anything, not sure.

Jon Fansmith: Kind of a lot of noise, maybe not a lot of action, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. But the biggest issue I think for all of our campuses right now is what is happening on their campuses with the various protests and the encampments going on, and obviously Congress is continuing to pay very close attention to everything going on. We’re getting closer to graduations and things like that. But I know you, Jon, have been following this issue really closely. What’s the latest? What’s Congress telling our campuses?

Jon Fansmith: Congress is doing a lot of different things in this area, and I think most of it probably falls under what we were just talking about, the noise, not so much action. But really by Congress’ standards, especially by this Congress’ standards, there is a lot of activity. Starting on the legislative side, the House did pass as a chamber a bill around campus antisemitism. It’s a bill in the House, H.R. 6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, and it passed with pretty healthy bipartisan majority. So this was not a partisan bill, which is most of the legislation we’ve seen from the House so far this Congress.

And what it does is it requires the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, which is the office at ED that’s responsible for investigating and resolving violations under Title VI. It requires the OCR consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism when they’re investigating claims of antisemitic acts on the college campus. That definition has been around for a while. In fact, I think, correct me if I’m wrong, Sarah, the State Department-

Sarah Spreitzer: Yup.

Jon Fansmith: ...adopted that in 2016, and in fact there is a current executive order that was actually first enacted under the Trump administration and has been maintained so far by the Biden administration that continues the support for consideration of that definition. I think probably the definition itself, there are certainly concerns about it. One of the other things that’s concerning is that the definition is often cited alongside a number of contemporary examples. And those examples themselves, there are concerns that they may conflate criticism of Israel and the government of Israel’s actions with antisemitism in a way that could be certainly challenging for free speech matters on a college campus.

The bill passed the House, like I said, it passed it with large majorities when it passed. There was a lot of consideration or a lot of rumors that it might move very quickly through the Senate. There is a bipartisan companion bill sponsored by Senators Scott and Casey, and so the immediate reaction was this might be moving very quickly. That was passed on a Friday about a week ago, week and a half ago. Since its passage, we haven’t seen much movement on it.

And what we have started to see is a bit of a pushback, and it’s coming from a couple different fronts. Really, I think pretty striking, there have been in the last three or four days a number of op-eds in major publications, the New York Times, there was one by representative Jerry Nadler. There’s some in the Atlantic, some in the Washington Post, all essentially opposing this bill, talking about the harms it might pose for academic freedom and free speech and free expression on campuses. So there seems to be opposition growing to it.

One other thing that I think is also pretty relevant considering that Democrats control the Senate, in that op-ed by Representative Nadler, he talked about, not in great detail, but mentioned that this is the kind of legislation that also splits the Democratic votes and that there is an awareness on the Republican side that this is an issue that’s difficult for the Democratic caucus to reconcile the more moderate side of the caucus with the more progressive side of the caucus, which tends to be more supportive of the protesters and certainly of concerns about what’s happening in Gaza.

So there are a couple different things that seem to be slowing this down. Still very possible that the bill may move forward in the Senate, just not as clear, doesn’t seem as likely as it did once it passed the House. That said, that’s probably the most substantive piece of legislation on this issue, though there’s lots of others, right, Sarah?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, and I think before we move off the Antisemitism Awareness Act, because you did reference Title VI, Jon, I think it’s important to note that the Department of Education is carrying out, OCR is carrying out investigations on institutions regarding antisemitism, also Islamophobia. And last week the Department of Education sent a letter to all of our institutions providing more guidance on Title VI and what constitutes a Title VI violation and including some examples. And so we will also post that in the chat.

But turning back to Congress, I think it was two weeks ago, Speaker Mike Johnson led a group of Republicans to announce a whole of the House effort to combat antisemitism specifically on college campuses. And so that means that we’re looking at legislation not just coming out of the Committee on Education and Workforce, but coming out of a whole host of committees. And so we saw the chairman of Ways and Means, we saw the chairman of the Science Committee, we saw the chairwoman of Energy and Commerce, a whole host of committees. And we’ve just seen legislation introduced in the House that would require the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to take action against international students who may be participating in the protests. I would expect that legislation to move through the House Committee on the Judiciary. We’re seeing Ways and Means look at some legislation regarding tax-exempt status. And I know, Jon, I think there was a bill that was just introduced in the Senate by Senator Vance called Endowments or Encampments that would take action against institutions that had encampments on campuses.

Jon Fansmith: Yes, this bill, so, and it’s worth mentioning, this is almost certainly a messaging bill, not one that would advance through the Senate. There’s a similar bill, well, not similar, but similar in terms of the structure and the likelihood of advancement, by Senator Cotton that was also introduced called the No Bailout for Campus Criminals Act.

The Encampments or Endowments Act, just very briefly, what it would do is require institutions to remove, and there’s some terminology around I think politically designed encampments or something like that, but encampments from campus grounds within seven days. Were an institution not to do that, they would lose their eligibility for Title IV aid and they would be required to match existing Title IV aid to their students out of institutional aid in the form of grant aid to students. If the institution then did not provide that grant aid match to the lost federal aid, they would face a 50 percent tax on the value of their endowment.

So you can see these are pretty draconian steps. Ones, again, not likely to get a lot of support, but Senator Vance is clearly seizing on a moment of a lot of criticism of especially highly selective institutions, institutions with large endowments. It is a messaging bill, but the message is clearly targeted at a handful of institutions.

So we’ve seen these things. I think we’re now tracking at ACE something like 13 separate bills in this area. It is one of the reasons why the Antisemitism Awareness Act is worth noticing. It’s the first one that’s really gone beyond introduction, and it did not have a committee vote, but it went right to the floor and did pass the floor. So legislatively, again, lots of ideas, not much happening.

That said, the whole of House approach is already starting to bear fruit in terms of other congressional action. We have seen the announcement of a number of different hearings coming up. Going through it, I think the House Oversight Committee had a closed-door briefing last week. Tomorrow the Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing called “Antisemitism on College Campuses,” which will feature an undergraduate, a graduate student, and the CEO of the National Jewish Advocacy Center. And then I think probably the other one that a lot of people have focused on, certainly in our community, is the May 23rd hearing in the Education and Workforce Committee where the presidents of UCLA, Rutgers, and Northwestern will be testifying before the committee.

This one I think is worth taking a minute or two on. One, this is continuation of the same hearings we’ve been seeing from this committee before. Certainly people remember the December 5th hearing with the presidents of Penn and MIT and Harvard and then the recent Columbia University hearing before the committee.

One thing that I think is worth really noting is originally, UCLA, Rutgers, and Northwestern, Rutgers and Northwestern were not scheduled to appear. The two institutions that were supposed to be there alongside UCLA were Yale and Michigan. What changed was over, not this past weekend but the weekend before, as many of our colleagues, some of you from these institutions, know, the presidents, the administration at those institutions entered into and resolved negotiations with protesters to remove the encampments in exchange for a number of things, mostly consideration of different proposals, including things like the creation of a Muslim student center or things along those lines, as well as putting proposals to divest from Israel or remove support from Israel at least under the consideration of the institution. Having done that over the weekend, the committee then swapped out Yale and Michigan for Rutgers and Northwestern.

Pretty strong words in the press release that the committee sent out. They described the presidents of Northwestern and Rutgers as “having surrendered to antisemitic radicals and despicable displays of cowardice.” So you’re really getting a sense of what that hearing’s going to look like and certainly the majority’s views of campuses’ efforts to directly engage protesters and seek ways of resolving encampments short of involving law enforcement. It’s clearly not supportive of that approach.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: So lots of hearings. There’s certainly going to be more of these, we expect, going forward. This issue is, even as we get to commencement and the hope that things on campuses may settle down, I think for members of Congress this is going to remain very much front and center through the rest of the year.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, we did have a question that came in through the chat about whether there’s anything to note with the fact that these hearings have now been expanded to include public institutions. So Rutgers and UCLA will be the first two public institutions to testify. Is there anything about their inclusion that you would note?

Jon Fansmith: I think if you’re trying to parse the motives of the committee, probably not a lot to draw from this. We knew that they were looking at a range of institutions, including public institutions, before; they just had not yet brought presidents of those institutions before the committee.

I think one of the things that will be interesting is when you have public institutions in the mix, public institutions are under First Amendment requirements. They don’t have the same latitude that private institutions do. So in some ways it certainly can be a more challenging environment in which to try to regulate speech on a campus. And certainly in terms of what we might see from their testimony from the committee’s questions, maybe it’s a small distinction, but I think it’ll be an important one as those hearings proceed, the different kinds of challenges faced by public institution presidents versus their private peers.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. I think it’s so hard for our institutions because I don’t think there’s any one right answer to what Congress is looking for or how to respond, but we did get a question before the podcast about what should presidents be doing in regards to these protests, to these encampments? And we recently spoke to Fred Lawrence, who’s the former president of Brandeis and now the president and CEO of Phi Beta Kappa, and spoke to him about his experiences as a president and how he would respond and the advice that he’s been sharing very publicly on CNN and other news outlets about how presidents should be responding.

Jon Fansmith: And if you haven’t, that’s on the dotEDU podcast. I think that episode actually just went live yesterday. If you’re not a regular listener to the podcast, I’m not pitching you to listen to it all the time, but I will say, especially if this is a subject you’re interested in, it is worth a listen. Fred is incredibly thoughtful, really, really articulate, and certainly one of the best people you can listen to on this issue.

And I think one of the things that really came across, I learned a lot from that conversation and it reflects a lot of the things we’ve been hearing from our members, which is there isn’t really one thing to do. The situations on different campuses vary widely. Different institutions have different policies; they have different constituencies with different viewpoints. And when you think about the challenges of balancing all the different constituencies that a college and university leadership has to deal with, it’s not just students. It’s not just faculty. It’s not just staff. It’s alumni; it’s donors; it’s trustees; it’s members of the local community; it’s members of law enforcement; increasingly, it’s politicians from outside their community; it’s motivated activists on both sides of the issue from outside their community. These are incredibly difficult things to do.

And each president, and we’ve talked to a number of them at this point, is incredibly aware of the various challenges and the balance involved in trying to reach resolution. I think, frankly, it’s one of the things that was particularly disappointing about the committee’s response to change who was invited to testify, sending a clear signal of disapproval in a case in which institutions reached a peaceful resolution by direct engagement with their students. If anything, that seems like the kind of behavior we might want to encourage more of, not to solely lean on to using law enforcement.

It’s not to say there are some circumstances, and we’ve certainly seen the examples in the press, where the protests had reached a point that was untenable, that real violence was occurring, vandalism, other acts of violence toward students, which is clearly unacceptable. College presidents have to preserve the safety of their students and their campus. And in those cases, involving law enforcement, whether that’s campus law enforcement or outside law enforcement, is certainly understandable and maybe the only possible solution. But I don’t know that anyone thinks you should start and end with that approach, and that seems to be where the committee’s putting its thumb right now.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I would just again say the conversation with Fred was so enlightening and I think not just for this moment in time for higher education, but looking forward to the fall, looking forward to higher education being in the spotlight and really being the basis for some of these conversations. It’s a really good listen.

So do we want to turn to a happier topic like FAFSA? Anything else, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: It is rare to call FAFSA the happier topic.

Sarah Spreitzer: I was being sarcastic, if you didn’t notice.

Jon Fansmith: Well, you might actually be accurate in this case. There actually is positive news around FAFSA. I feel like I should qualify that. There’s positive, neutral, and negative news when you’re talking about FAFSA. But start with a positive, right? We need all the positives we can find in this moment.

It has been several weeks since there have been any reported issues with FAFSA processing by the department. Institutions are getting the corrected student information, the ISIRs files. The tax data that had been erroneously provided has been corrected. The miscalculations by the department have been corrected, and there is a existing system in place where applicants’ errors, if they misfiled their application, those can be resolved relatively quickly.

So we are at the point where packaging is now in full swing on really almost all campuses and the data is available to start doing this. Obviously way, way, way too late in this season for this to be getting back to where we should have started at, but, still, given all the other challenges, very encouraging.

The other thing I’d say is mixed news is that we are still seeing a significant decline in the number of applications that have been completed relative to last year. It’s about 20, 21 percent lower right now than it was at the same point it was last year. So that is enormous, and I don’t want to understate that, but I will also note that about two and a half weeks ago it was 40 percent. So that percentage has, we’ve had a real surge late as the system has stabilized, as the ability to apply and have your application be processed has stabilized.

And there’s also been a huge effort, and really a lot of kudos to our colleagues in the college admissions folks, the college counseling folks, the enrollment and admissions folks on campuses, who have been doing an enormous amount of work about spreading the word, encouraging students to apply, working with their local educational agencies at K-12 schools, high schools, making sure students know that they can do this now, if they had problems before, they should return to it.

The department has committed $50 million to working with outside groups. They’ve contracted with ECMC, which is a loan guarantee agency the department has business relationships with, to manage a broad outreach campaign, and that’s great. These are all good steps. Certainly the fact that the percentage is dropping so significantly is good news.

The big caveat there is we are in the middle of May. The K-12 school year is ending, depending on where you are, in two or three weeks in most public schools, which means the amount of time that students who still have not applied will be in a school environment with a counselor there, with support services who can help them or encourage them to apply, that timeframe is dwindling. So this push right now is really important. That 20, 21 percent number, we’d obviously like to see that down to zero or even a positive that applications are up over the previous year, but it’s going to be a sprint to the end. Summer, I don’t think there’s huge expectations that we’ll be able to cover up any big gaps if we hit the summer at that point.

Final thing, the one maybe down point around the FAFSA is not about this year. Like I said, I think we’ve turned a corner in a lot of ways for this year. It’s really about getting students to apply at this point. But for next year, we are currently at the part of the process where the department should be sharing with colleges and universities and the public the form for next year so they can get feedback on that. That has not occurred.

There is a lot of concern. In fact, the congressional leaders of the education committees and the appropriations committees sent a letter to the Department of Education basically saying, “We are concerned that next year you will not be on track. And so what we want from you is weekly briefings.” I don’t know that I’ve ever seen members of Congress ask an agency for weekly briefings on something that wasn’t maybe related to an urgent national security need. Lots of other requests for how the department should keep them informed, how the department should increase transparency. Really what they’re trying to do is say, “We know there’s been a problem and we’re worried about next year, and we’re going to keep a very close eye on FSA, the Federal Student Aid office at the Department of Education, to make sure you’re hitting your marks.” The marks here really being having everything be ready on October 1st.

Secretary Cardona was asked about this in a hearing before the Education and Workforce Committee. I think he probably said what he could say, given the circumstances, but what he didn’t say was an absolute yes that they would be ready to go by October 1st. That may be a reasonable thing, hard to guarantee something five months out, hard to guarantee something given the challenges they’ve had. But if you were looking to be reassured that at least we’ll escape the hassles of this year, there’s at least reason to be concerned about what certainly the start of next year may look like. So we started with good news, Sarah, we just kind of winded up with maybe not so good news.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And I guess, Jon, is there any prediction for where we’re going to end up? Are we out of the woods now for this year? I know a lot of it is on our students to do the packaging now, but do you think it’s pretty smooth now for the ISIRs and things? And then any predictions for what you think, like do you think enrollment will actually be better than what we were thinking about when we started this process, when we realized how behind they were?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, so I’m furiously knocking wood here. The process part of it, the department’s part of it, where we were seeing those major errors that impacted hundreds of thousands, in some cases, millions of students’ applications, we’re not seeing those anymore. We’re seeing those corrected. We haven’t seen anything really at any sort of significant level being flagged on the institutional side or being raised by the department. So in that regard, I think that’s a very good sign for getting through the remainder of the cycle.

The big problem is enrollments, right? And I said it’s getting better. There’s been an effort, there’s been a push, but a 20 percent applications completed drop from the same time last year, that’s one in five students.

And when you think about the students who are applying for the FAFSA, by the very nature of it, these are students who need at least some level of financial aid. So the communities that we are most worried about, the communities we saw drift out of higher education during the pandemic not so long ago, those are the communities that are disproportionately represented in that 20 percent. These are low-income students; these are first generation students; these are students of color.

If you look at where the applications are coming from, less diverse high schools tend to have higher percentages than more diverse high schools. High schools where they generally have higher income levels tend to be better represented than high schools that have generally lower income levels.

So you’re seeing play out the concerns we have. There is a big enrollment, or at least a big application, drop at this point, and it’s the students who need the most support. And 20.5 percent, I really don’t want to undersell that. That is a huge decline. And I think if you talk to campus folks, and I’ve been out on the road a lot recently and hearing from lot of campus folks, the enrollment concerns are very significant, very, very severe, and especially schools that are somewhat tuition-dependent, this is throwing a lot of their planning overall for next year into chaos as well.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, we just got a question about any word on movement on the College Cost Reduction Act, CCRA, which I know you and our colleague Emmanuel have been spending a lot of time on. I know they just did the report out on the legislation, which seems to indicate that maybe it will move to the floor at some point. Any predictions on it?

Jon Fansmith: And Tom Vu is the person who submitted the comment and made a point to sort of elbow us by noting how sunny it was where he was writing in from in California. But aside from that, Tom, it’s a good question. Happy to talk about it.

They have not filed the committee report, which is generally the first stage in moving it to the floor for a vote. So we’ve not seen that. That’s maybe indicative. What we did see, what came out last Friday, was the Congressional Budget Office.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with this, but for those of you who aren’t, the Congressional Budget Office is sort of the accountant firm of Congress, and they have one really important role, which is when legislation is proposed, they do the estimates of whether the bill will cost the government money going forward or whether the bill will save the government money going forward. And obviously that has implications for whether bills can go forward. Bills that cost money need an offset. We saw that with the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act.

The CBO score indicates that the CCRA, the College Cost Reduction Act, will actually generate savings. So they won’t need an offset. They could move it to the floor without getting additional funding attached to it. In fact, it generates a lot of savings. It generates $185 billion in savings.
That comes from a variety of places. Some of it is that they think some lending will go down, lending that actually costs the government money because of the subsidies attached to it. Some of that comes from the fact that billions will be generated in the annual risk-sharing payments. So there’s a lot of things going on there.

I think you can look at it, and this is a great DC game. People are parsing out the CBO’s analysis. There’s always an element of challenging some of their assumptions. I have great sympathy for the people at CBO. They will never produce something that receives universal praise and support because if you have a partisan or a political stake in the outcome, you tend to see the numbers in a very different light.

But taking them for their word, $185 billion in savings essentially means that when you look out over the next 10 years, there will be $185 billion less in financial support to students or there will be offsetting money coming from campuses. It’s really hard to look at this bill with that number and think that students will come out of it in better shape were it to be enacted into law. In fact, part of CBO’s cost savings say that lending will be down in some of those programs because institutions will close programs or the institutions themselves will close, which, again, are not outcomes that I think should be desired in terms of federal policy. I think we can all agree on that.

So we are continuing to work with the committee staff, and I will say they have been great to work with. They’ve been very candid. They’re very open about their legislation. I know we had a question about the metrics and the formulas. They are, I would say, quite confusing. We have people working on that full-time. And, again, the staff has been great. If you are interested in this and you haven’t yet reached out to them, I think they would be interested in hearing from you talking about what they are trying to do.

But reduce it back to the big factors: $185 billion in savings, billions of dollars in risk-sharing payments. This is a bill that will have a huge financial impact on colleges and universities and especially low-income students were it to go forward.

And again, we don’t know. Certainly having a score is necessary to go to the floor. Having a score that doesn’t require an offset helps expedite moving it to the floor. We haven’t seen the committee report filed, so that would be probably the last step.

We’re also not hearing necessarily that there’s a groundswell of support. Remember, this is a House in which the majority has, I think a three-vote margin at this point. One-vote margin, thank you. A one-vote margin is really hard to use to pass legislation, and this would be seen in many, many ways as a partisan bill. So any defections from the Republican side means it’s likely not going to move forward. So a tough environment to simply get it to the floor and get it passed. But certainly Chairwoman Foxx is not to be underestimated. She’s determined to move this forward, and she will continue to her work to do so.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jon, I was going to mention a bit about, we haven’t talked for a while on the podcast about the DREAM Act and where it’s been. The DREAM Act has been reintroduced every Congress since 2001 by Senator Dick Durbin, who is currently the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he took the time to hold a hearing last week called The Dream Deferred to talk about the DREAM Act. And, of course, those Dreamers that are really living in limbo without any kind of congressional statute, putting DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals into law or knowing whether or not they will be able to renew their DACA status under the next administration.

So Senator Durbin held this hearing, and the ranking member, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina is the ranking member on Senate Judiciary and actually the co-sponsor of the DREAM Act. And it was an interesting hearing to watch. I don’t think I would say it was happy in any way. A lot of inspiring testimony from current Dreamers. But Senator Graham has said that he will not move this piece of legislation that has traditionally had bipartisan support until there are actions taken around border security, which has been a priority for the Republican Party. There was a lot of conversation at the hearing about the bipartisan immigration bill, which had been shelved earlier this year, and about whether or not they could go back to examine it.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see any pathway forward on immigration legislation in this Congress, especially in the lead-up to a very contentious election season. But I did want to note for people that Senator Durbin continues to push on the DREAM Act, and we continue to advocate for that, whether or not it’s going to move forward.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, we’ve said this I feel like so many times before, that this is one that’s so frustrating because, overwhelmingly, this is popular in a bipartisan manner with members of Congress. If you put it to the American people, polling and surveys consistently show strong support for meeting these students’ needs, and now a lot of them are adults, but giving them a pathway into citizenship, and yet it just never moves forward. And election years, especially around immigration, just are very, very difficult. So thank you for that update, Sarah.

Moving back to the House, the China Select Committee, I know you’ve been tracking what they’re doing. They sent a letter this week that involved the Education folks as well.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, so we have a new chairman of the House Select Committee on China. It’s Congressman John Moolenaar, who is from Michigan. He takes over from Mike Gallagher, who retired earlier this year. And I think that the House Select Committee is going to continue to focus on all the issues that they looked at last year.

But I did find it interesting that one of the first things that he’s done as chairman is to send this letter to Georgia Tech, who has a longstanding relationship with Tianjin University, excuse me if I mispronounce that, which is one of those institutions in China that has ties to the PLA, to the People’s Liberation Army. And so there are concerns from the House China Select Committee about that relationship, especially since Georgia Tech performs a lot of Department of Defense-funded research.

But Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the Education and Workforce Committee, also signed onto the letter. And there were specific questions around Section 117, the foreign gift and contract reporting, which you know, Jon, I talk about a lot.

Jon Fansmith: You do.

Sarah Spreitzer: And Georgia Tech has been reporting under Section 117. They are not one of those institutions that was unaware or was not in compliance with Section 117. However, they did not report some of the funding that they were receiving within China for support of this research. And so the select committee has said that they’re going to push forward on an investigation on this.

I think that it will continue to spur Chairwoman Foxx to push for changes to Section 117. She sponsored and led the DETERRENT Act, which passed the House earlier this year. I think that I’m waiting to see whether or not we’re going to get anything added to the National Defense Authorization Act on this, but I just think that foreign gift and contract funding, foreign funding to our institutions, continues to be a major interest to members of Congress, and not just Republicans but also Democrats.

Jon Fansmith: And do we expect more of these letters to other institutions? Do we get a sense this is part of an ongoing process where individual institutions will be put under the microscope? Any sense of where this is going?

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, the Committee on Education and Workforce has had some ongoing investigations around Section 117, including in the investigations around antisemitism. Those letters to those campuses included questions on Section 117 and whether or not those institutions were taking money from foreign sources that perhaps were supportive of Hamas. And so I think that what we’ll likely see is some sort of report coming out from the House Select Committee or from Education and Workforce that makes the case that there need to be changes made to the current Section 117 rules.

Jon Fansmith: Thanks, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, always fun. Always something fun in Section 117-

Jon Fansmith: More investigations.

Sarah Spreitzer: ... and research security. But speaking of investigations, Jon, and other fun things, I don’t think we’ve talked about Title IX and the final Title IX rule that was released a couple weeks ago, and that unfortunately our institutions have until August 1st to implement, which is a pretty quick timeline. And I know that there’s been a lot of talk about various states, various governors putting out press releases telling their institutions not to implement these final rules. So what can you share on Title IX and all this stuff happening there?

Jon Fansmith: And there is a lot happening there. The first thing I would say is that we hosted a webinar with some amazing folks off campus and our own Pete McDonough and Anne Meehan participating as well that is available on our website. We also have a short summary of the key takeaways from the regulations up there. If you haven’t seen those and you’re following this issue, I highly recommend it. The webinar in particular is a great, very informative discussion, really within an hour covered a lot of the key points. So definitely check that out if you haven’t.
This issue with the states, it’s interesting, right? I think everyone expected that as soon as the regulations went into effect and there were very clear signals being sent, that there would be legal challenges. And we’ve seen that. I think there’s three different groupings of states’ attorneys general, who are either solely or in partnership with other states filing suits challenging these regulations.

And then your point too about the idea of saying, “Well, we’re simply not going to comply with the regulations.” Or directing educational institutions in their states, again, at both, not just the higher ed level but also at the K-12 level, which is subject to these regulations, not to comply with them. Department of Education has said essentially, I think Secretary Cardona said during the hearing, federal law trumps state law in this area, and that their expectation is that states will follow the law.

This is another one of those situations where I think, regardless of your viewpoints on the issue, institutions are left in a very perilous position where they have a requirement from the federal government that is the provider of Title IV aid, among many other, things to follow federal regulations. But they also have a state government that is telling them not to follow those regulations.

And really, we’ve talked about this a lot. Again, you can absent the policy from a lot of these discussions. What colleges really need is clarity and understanding what their obligations are and how to meet them. And whether that’s foreign gift reporting or Title IX, that lack of clarity, that lack of understanding, it makes it so much harder simply to make the choices you have to make.

And particularly as we look at a really complicated set of regulations that are due to come into effect as of August 1st, even assuming your state wasn’t telling you not to implement any piece of this, you have to look at it and think, “We’re spending the summer rewriting our policies, retraining our staff, maybe reordering our staff, where they work and what their responsibilities are.” There’s a lot you will have to do as a campus to be compliant by August 1st. And the fact that there’s multiple legal challenges, that there’s state directives further complicates what’s already a complicated process of understanding how this applies to your campus and how you come into compliance with it.

So you think about all of the different things, and we didn’t really touch on this. Again, I’d go back to the webinar and the resources we put up, but there is a very big expansion of the scope of the regulation to all sex-based discrimination. So that includes discrimination based on sex stereotypes or characteristics, pregnancy, sexual orientations, gender identity. They’ve completely revised the flexibility institutions have around how they hold campus disciplinary proceedings in this area. They’ve removed the 2020 Trump administration regulations’ requirement for live hearings. There is a lot that is very different and was very much a reversal of what those regulations said.

This is a big deal. This is complicated. This is hard to parse and figure out for campuses. And these further complications don’t make it any easier in what is already a very short time period for compliance.

Sarah Spreitzer: A short time period where they’re dealing with FAFSA delays. We did get some sort of delay on gainful employment and the financial value transparency, but big new reporting requirements. And then coming out of these protests and maybe disrupted graduation. So not a normal summer-

Jon Fansmith: No.

Sarah Spreitzer: ...for institutions by any means. And I think a lot, a lot on their plates.

Jon Fansmith: We didn’t even mention, which may be the first time we haven’t at least mentioned it, the Department of Labor overtime rule-

Sarah Spreitzer: Yes.

Jon Fansmith: ...which, that change in the salary threshold for employees who will be eligible for overtime pay, that takes effect July 1st, the first part of that rule raising the threshold up from $35,000 roughly to about $45,000. So you add to that the implications for staffing and how positions are described and how they’re staffed and things like that on campus.

I mean, there’s just a lot happening to come into compliance with regulations and statutes that really direct impact on campuses in a short period of time. It is a real maelstrom of stuff.

Sarah Spreitzer: It’s almost like a perfect storm, right? All of these things coming into effect and so quickly, it’s a lot for summer. Well, I think that’s all the questions that we had, Jon. Any last words for the group or anything else that’s on your mind?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just say, I mentioned earlier, I’ve been traveling a lot and talking to a lot of people, and one of the things that we get stuck sometimes, and you’re very aware of this, right, here in DC, and we talk about, we don’t have any happy news, and it is a perfect storm of things, and it gets to be very easy to focus on some of the things you see in the news and the portrayals of campuses and the portrayals of the people who lead campuses and work on them. And it’s really...actually, I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to get out and actually talk to real people on campuses because what you hear is very different than the portrayal. What you see is people who care deeply about students and education and research and advancing knowledge.

And so for all of you, we appreciate you joining us. We really, really appreciate the work that you do. And I’m not known for being particularly sentimental, but I think it’s worth, especially in moments like this when there is so much criticism and critique and frankly misrepresentation of what goes on on our campuses, that it’s at least worth acknowledging that what we do is actually something pretty special and very important to millions of people and good work worth pursuing. So maybe I’ll leave it at that point because we’re right up against time. I don’t know if you have any final thoughts too, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: No, just a thank you to all of our colleagues that I think make this worthwhile and knowing that we’re all in this together.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, great thoughts. And so thank you all so much for all that you do and certainly for joining us here today. We’ll see you next month.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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