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Alexander Announces Report On Simplifying Federal Regulations on Colleges, Universities

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 12, 2015:

Chairman Alexander announces Feb. 24 hearing on report recommendations to streamline and reduce federal regulations, while protecting students and taxpayers

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 12 – A bipartisan group of senators on the Senate education committee, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), today announced a report detailing ways Congress and the Department of Education could streamline and reduce federal regulations for America’s 6,000 colleges and universities, while protecting students and taxpayers. Chairman Alexander also announced a hearing to discuss the findings of the report on February 24.

Click HERE to access the report, supported by the American Council on Education.

In November 2013, these senators formed the Task Force on Government Regulation of Higher Education, a group of 16 college and university presidents and higher education experts co-chaired by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos and University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, to conduct a comprehensive, nonpartisan review of the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations and the reporting requirements on colleges and universities.

The task force’s objective was to provide specific recommendations on reducing, eliminating or streamlining duplicative, costly or confusing regulations and reporting requirements to Congress and the administration in anticipation of the ninth reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

“The stack of federal regulations on colleges and universities today, which stretches as tall as I am, is simply the piling up of well-intentioned laws and regulations, done without anyone first weeding the garden,” said Senate education committee Chairman Alexander. “This report will guide our efforts to weed the garden and allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students, instead of filling out mountains of paperwork. I thank the members of the task force, Chancellors Zeppos and Kirwan, and the American Council on Education for their hard work on this report—and I look forward to discussing their findings in our committee.”

“When I helped convene this Task Force, I had one goal in mind: to support our institutions of higher education – help them be them as they work to educate our next generation,” Senator Mikulski said. “I have heard many concerns from these institutions regarding federal requirements that, while well-intentioned, often end up being duplicative and burdensome.  I agree that we need to regulate, not strangulate.  I thank the Co-Chairs of the Task Force, Chancellors Kirwan and Zeppos, for leading such a monumental effort.”

“Over a year ago when this task force began its work, I noted the ‘tidal wave’ of regulations facing institutions of higher education and the resulting higher tuition costs to students,” said Senator Burr. “Not only has this report confirmed, with specificity, the extent of these problems, it shows that every day the situation worsens as a result of the Department of Education’s never-ending addiction to regulating colleges and universities.  My hope is Congress can put the report’s recommendations to action as soon as possible.  I also want to thank the members of the task force, but am especially appreciative of President Tom Ross and Chancellor Harold Martin for accepting my invitation to advocate for North Carolina’s views on the task force.”

“Our colleges and universities are the gateways to success in the 21st century economy for this generation and the next,” Senator Bennet said. “We look forward to reading more about the task force’s ideas to help these institutions focus more on improving the quality of education and less on regulations. This report will be part of the process for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. We’re extremely grateful for the hard work of the task force, particularly Bruce Benson of the University of Colorado and Senator Bill Armstrong of Colorado Christian University for bringing a Colorado perspective to the panel.”

“I appreciate the senators’ commitment to finding solutions to the challenges America’s colleges and universities face due to the sharp increase in the amount and complexity of government regulation,” Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “As higher education administrators continue to work to keep costs down, increase accessibility, and make college more affordable, this task force represents a valuable opportunity to recommend more efficient regulations that will benefit students and families while we maintain responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. It has been a privilege to engage with Chancellor Kirwan and my higher education colleagues in this important endeavor.”

“It has been an honor to serve with Chancellor Zeppos as co-chair of the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education and I applaud the hard work of all Task Force members in addressing this issue,” said Chancellor William Kirwan. “While the Task Force recognizes the importance of federal oversight in our accountability to taxpayers, we all stand to better serve our students by making certain regulations less cumbersome. We look forward to the feedback from members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, and I personally extend my gratitude to Senators Mikulski, Alexander, Bennett and Burr for their foresight and commitment to ensure high quality, affordable, and accessible higher education opportunities for our nations’ citizens.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to have served on the Task Force, and want to express my thanks to the bipartisan group of senators who recognized the need to create it and to my fellow Task Force members for their hard work, especially our co-chairs, Chancellors William E. Kirwan of the University System of Maryland and Nicholas S. Zeppos of Vanderbilt University,” said American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad. “I look forward to the report’s findings and recommendations being explored in detail during the upcoming Senate hearing.”

In addition to Zeppos, Kirwan and Broad, Task Force members include: Former Senator Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University; Bruce Benson, president of University of Colorado; Thomas Chema, president emeritus of Hiram College; Margaret Drugovich, president of Hartwick College; Dana Hoyt, president of Sam Houston State University; Brice Harris, chancellor of California Community College System; Jonathan Kaplan, CEO of Laureate Online Education; Neil Kerwin, president of American University; J. Michael Locke, former CEO of Rasmussen College; Harold Martin, chancellor of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; Claude Pressnell, president of Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association; Tom Ross, president of University of North Carolina; and Bob Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College.

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Tea Partiers In Tune With Gibson

Organizers for Saturday afternoon’s “We Stand With Gibson” rally/concert in Nashville say the event is geared more toward people seeking a good time than looking for a political rant fest.

Clearly, though, with a line-up that, in addition to musical performers, includes conservative radio hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, and Memphis Tea Party founder Mark Skoda — as well as U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Gibson Guitar’s CEO himself, Henry Juszkiewicz — there’ll no doubt be plenty of fire-breathing to accompany the cool harmonies.

The purpose of the event is, after all, to raise awareness and fuel outrage about an incident that one function organizer says has galvanized anti-government sentiment like no other in quite a while.

“I don’t think any other issue has captured the passions of tea partiers like this one has in the last year,” said Ben Cunningham, a blogger and spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt.

“There is near universal agreement among the tea party and conservative groups that the raids — the one that occurred in August and the one that occurred two years ago — were an overreach by the federal government. It was an abuse of power and authority,” said Cunningham.

The purpose of the “We Stand With Gibson” event is to say to the federal government, “Back off,” Cunningham said during a press conference Wednesday.

The gathering, which is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. at the Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar, was also planned with the idea in mind of people coming together in support of others facing difficulty and uncertainty — like they did during the floods of 2010, Ken Marrero, a blogger and rally organizer, added.

The victims in this case, said Marrero, are Juszkiewicz and the employees of Gibson. Their place of work was inundated back in August with federal agents who allege Gibson illegally imported wood from India in violation of a recently amended U.S. law known as the Lacey Act.

The agents seized wood, guitars and other company property, according to the company. No charges have been filed, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency conducting the investigation, is reportedly considering filing a criminal complaint.

In a sworn statement filed last month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Kevin L. Seiler wrote that after reviewing Juszkiewicz’s public statements in the wake of the raid on Gibson, “it is clear that Gibson understands the purpose of the Lacey Act, and understands that the (seized company property), which is fingerboard blanks, are not finished fingerboards and thus Gibson is aware that its order for fingerboard blanks was an order for contraband ebony wood or ebony wood which is illegal to possess.”

Marrero said he supports the idea of government regulating natural resource extraction and prohibiting Americans from violating the environmental and wildlife protection laws of other countries, which is ostensibly the purpose of the Lacey Act.

But he thinks the federal agents stepped way over the line in the Gibson case, both in the way they are interpreting the law and the way they executed the raid.

Marrero said it is his understanding that Indian law — at least according to the Indian government — has not been violated. India’s deputy director-general of foreign trade reportedly stated in a Sept. 16 letter, “Fingerboard is a finished product and not wood in primary form,” and that the “foreign trade policy of the government of India allows free export of such finished products of wood.”

Marrero wonders why the United States government “is enforcing a law that the Indian government doesn’t even consider is a violation.”

“How is that right?” he said.

Cunningham, too, condemns what he described as the “hideously complex” web of regulations that businesses and taxpayers have to understand, negotiate and abide by to remain in compliance with federal law.

“We have all kinds of these 2,000-page laws that empower bureaucrats to be petty tyrants,” said Cunningham. “Think of the IRS code.”

In any event, said Cunningham, when government officials do perceive that some nonviolent violation of a rule or regulation has occurred, the proper course is to “call (an alleged violator) up on the phone and say, ‘We are concerned about this law and your compliance with the law.'”

“You don’t send armed agents with their guns drawn into their corporate headquarters. That is an abuse of power, and that is our government abusing the power that we grant to them,” said Cunningham. “And that is why we are here — we are holding them accountable for this abuse of power. It’s got to stop. And we the people are coming here on Saturday to say that to our federal government.”