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ACE president’s weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders

CURRENT EDITION June 24-28, 2019 ~ Vol. 20, No. 21

We are at the midpoint of the congressional summer session, with just a few weeks left until both chambers leave town for the traditional August recess. Incremental steps were made this week on some bills we have been monitoring, while others remain stalled—including the Senate version of the Dream Act.

Congress will be on break next week for the July 4th holiday. President to President will return July 12 when Congress reconvenes.​

  •  ACE, Higher Education Groups Urge Senate to Pass Dream Act

    With all eyes on the continuing crisis on the southern border, the House yesterday passe​d a Senate-approved $4.6 billion emergency spending measure providing humanitarian aid to fund strapped immigration agencies dealing with overwhelming numbers of migrants, sending the bill to President Trump for his signature.

    As Congress once again has focused its attention on immigration, we are continuing our advocacy on behalf of Dreamers, young immigrants brought here as children and living in unacceptable political and legal limbo since the president rescinded the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy in September 2017. I sent a letter yesterday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) requesting they make passage of legislation providing permanent protections for Dreamers a priority.

    Earlier this year, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) reintroduced the bipartisan Dream Act of 2019 (S. 874), a bill that would allow many Dreamers to earn lawful permanent residence in the United States and a path to citizenship. The House has approved its own Dream Act bill—the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6)—that would provide a long-term legislative fix for Dreamers, as well as those with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, who have seen their status rescinded and also live in uncertainty. We would be satisfied to see the Senate take up and approve either version, as long as they move quickly.​

  •  ACE Requests Clarification on Foreign Gift and Contract Reporting Rules

    Congress has been looking closely at a section of the Higher Education Act (HEA) on reporting foreign gifts and contracts and how colleges and universities comply with the requirement, part of recent efforts to deal with perceived threats of foreign espionage and influence, particularly from China.

    Along with six other higher education associations, we sent a letter June 21 to the Department of Education (ED) seeking clarification on Sec. 117 of the HEA, which requires reporting on foreign gifts and contracts. It was our second request on this issue, following one we made in January. That letter focused on four areas: the dollar amount that triggers the reporting requirement, the specific definition of an institution of higher education, when it is sufficient to report the country or the individual foreign entity, and how institutions should submit corrections or amendments to previous reports.

    The Associated Press (AP) reported earlier this month that ED has begun investigations into foreign funding at several universities as part of a “broader push to monitor international money flowing to American colleges.” An anonymous Trump administration official told the AP that more institutions likely will face questioning as federal officials “focus on an issue they see as crucial to transparency and national security.” These reports of investigations highlight the importance of the Department of Education responding to our letters on this issue.​

  •  MIT, Michigan Presidents Discuss Importance of a Welcoming Environment for International Students, Scholars

    Along with these national security concerns, we have noted problems surrounding delays of international student visas, the importance of maintaining the United States as the destination of choice for the world's best students and scholars, and not using Chinese and other foreign students like pawns in international stand-offs over tariffs.

    In that vein, I wanted to share a thoughtful piece MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote for his campus community. As the leader of the university that includes MIT Lincoln Laboratory, he stresses his commitment to national security, and says that MIT has established “prudent policies to protect against such breaches.” But he also stresses that we must take “great care not to create a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear” when addressing these potential risks.

    The presidents and chancellors of Michigan colleges and universities sent a similar letter to their congressional delegation this week. The presidents warn that as it becomes more difficult for foreign students and academics to study and work in the United States, many are turning to other options, “weakening not just our individual institutions, but American higher education as a whole, and, by extension, our country’s global competitiveness.” They outline five actions that Congress can take to reinvigorate and streamline the foreign talent pipeline.

    Thanks to both President Reif and the Michigan presidents for weighing in on this vital issue. Please let us know of any similar efforts on your campus.​

  •  House Passes Second Minibus Appropriations Package

    This week, the House passed the second minibus funding bill (H.R. 3055) which includes five FY 2020 appropriations bills, some of which cover funding for federal research.

    The bill includes $8.64 billion for the National Science Foundation, $561 million (7 percent) over FY 2019. The bill also includes $22.32 billion for NASA, which is $815 million (3.8 percent) over FY 2019. The legislation would also fund the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts at $167.5 million each, which is a $12.5 million increase for each over FY 2019 funding levels.

    Similar to the first minibus, which included the FY 2020 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education and Department of Defense funding bills, the White House issued a statement opposing passage of the bill and threatening to veto it if it passed the Senate, which is unlikely. ​


    The Steering Committee of the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy hosted a global forum last week in Strasbourg, France to discuss issues surrounding academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and the future of democracy. ACE Senior Vice President Philip Rogers, who serves as ACE’s representative on the committee, and ACE Board member Jonathan Alger, president of James Madison University, both made presentations to the group, which included nearly 150 presidents and other higher education leaders from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Click here to read the final declaration of academic freedom the forum adopted.

    In late May, a fix for the kiddie tax scholarship issue was incorporated into an unrelated retirement bill, the SECURE Act, which passed the House 417-3. There was a possibility that the Senate would pass the SECURE Act before the Memorial Day recess, but several senators objected. Since then, momentum for passage of the SECURE Act in the Senate has slowed, with reports that Majority Leader McConnell has been reluctant to devote floor time to the bill. In an effort to give another push on the kiddie tax scholarship fix, hopefully before the July 4 recess, we sent this letter June 21 to the full Senate urging them to act.

    The issue of student loan debt is in the news, but a poll released Tuesday found that it is not the topic that Democratic primary voters most wanted to hear about from Democratic presidential candidates during this week’s debates in Miami. A new Morning Consult survey found that 63 percent of Democratic voters said it is “very important” for the candidates to discuss climate change, with gun policy, abortion, Medicare-for-all, and immigration rounding out the top five. Still, 41 percent of those polled said it was very important for candidates to discuss student loan debt, coming in above trade sanctions and relations with North Korea, but below infrastructure, criminal justice reform, and President Trump.

    The Department of Education last week released a revised Accreditation Handbook for use by accrediting agencies seeking recognition. Compared to the previous 88-page document issued in 2012, the department says that the new, streamlined 28-page handbook provides clearer, more concise requirements for accrediting agencies so they know what kind of and how much evidence they should submit to meet recognition requirements.

    Finally this week, I would like to share a rare and well-deserved honor bestowed on my ACE colleague Terry Hartle, who works tirelessly to advocate on federal public policy matters on behalf of American higher education and enable our community to speak with a collective voice on key issues. Terry was awarded honorary membership status by the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) last weekend during its annual conference in Denver. That is not something NACUA does lightly or often: according to its records, Terry is only the sixth person to be made an honorary member in the organization’s history, and the first since 2008. Kudos to Terry, and thank you to NACUA for this gracious tribute and for the important ongoing collaboration between our organizations and the vital role that NACUA and campus general counsels play in advancing the interests of colleges and universities. ​

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