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A Long, Hot Summer in Washington, DC
As campuses have prepared for the new fall semester — and attended to the unprecedented demands of reopening — ACCU focused much of its activity this summer on ensuring that U.S. members were supported through regulatory relief.
- International Students. In early July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released language requiring universities to report (in a very short amount of time) whether they intended to offer classroom-based instruction in the fall. The memo would have forced international students attending institutions offering only online instruction to either transfer or return to their home countries. The higher education community objected quickly and loudly. ACCU released a statement voicing its objections and signed onto a letter sent to both Houses of Congress, asking for assistance in restoring institutions’ flexibility to serve international students. The association also provided talking points and sign-on letters to member presidents, urging them to speak out against the proposal. Following a hearing in mid-July, the government reversed position and agreed to set aside the DHS guidance.
- Stimulus Funding. In Congress, much of July and August were focused on crafting a fourth Stimulus package, but negotiations between the White House and Congressional Democratic leadership remained contentious. Proposals included liability protections for institutions that reopened, as well as additional funding for higher education. Insiders believed some provisions were largely meant to give House and Senate reps something to talk about in their home districts as they faced tight reelection races in November. Nevertheless, ACCU continued to remain engaged in behind-the-scenes conversations, with high hopes for a new supplemental bill that would include support for colleges and universities.
- Supreme Court Decisions. For the first time in decades, the Supreme Court continued its work into July, in what was a highly active term. In addition to ruling in favor of maintaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Supreme Court strengthened the ability of faith-based organizations to hire individuals whose convictions and actions are consonant with the “ministerial function” they are being hired to perform. The Court also upheld a rule that permits employers, including universities, a broad right to opt out on religious grounds from the Affordable Care Act requirement that they offer free birth control through their health plans.
Summaries from BloombergLaw.com on the two cases can be found here and here. ACCU also engaged its legal firm to prepare a brief that explored how the Supreme Court’s decisions affect our institutions, which is available to member presidents.
As we speed toward the November election, ACCU will monitor both parties’ platforms related to education and engage in continued discussion of the federal budget and other relevant developments.