Senate Democrats Question Role of DeVos Advisory Group
by Jamaal Abdul-Alim
WASHINGTON — A new task force that will reportedly advise the U.S. Department of Education on issues of higher education could be “very problematic” if it seeks to weaken federal regulations meant to protect students, Senate Democrats say in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., expected to head the task force, has suggested there is “overreaching regulation” in higher education.
The letter asks DeVos to clarify how the task force — reportedly to be headed by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. — will advise the department on issues of higher education. It also raises questions about whether the Trump administration plans to scrap regulations in areas such as accreditation, recruitment of students and rules that give defrauded borrowers a way to discharge their loans.
“Many of the current laws and regulations in these areas have been put in place to protect students and taxpayers from abuse,” the letter states, “and it would be very problematic if a task force were formed to weaken or consider changes to any of these rules unless the goal was helping students and borrowers.”
The letter also stresses the need for the task force to be diverse.
“Unless the task force is comprised of members from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, including students and consumer advocates, we are concerned about conflicts of interests that may be created by taxpayer-subsidized entities writing the rules for their own access to federal dollars,” the letter states.
Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, also cited the need for more information about the task force.
“For decades, higher education policymaking has been informed by a multiplicity of perspectives and a new task force may very well continue this important tradition,” Cooper said in a statement to Diverse.
“But the specific role of a new task force must be purposeful and transparent, not undefined or imprecise,” Cooper’s statement said. “This task force must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to quality outcomes and making higher education accessible and affordable for all Americans.
“I, too, look forward to learning more about the role of this group.”
Diverse reached out to the Department of Education on Friday for comment but did not get a response. A spokesperson for Falwell said on Friday that Falwell was traveling and would not be available until this week.