Next week, the Senate will be in and will consider wind energy tax credits. The House will be in recess.
Political Bills Dominate Chambers
With pressing needs like immigration reform and America COMPETES legislation still awaiting action, both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate have devoted floor time to items popular with their political bases, but which stand no chance of enactment by the other chamber. In recent weeks, the Senate brought up equal pay and minimum wage legislation, which were blocked on a largely party line vote. Likewise, the House this week appointed a special committee to investigate the events around Benghazi and to hold a high-ranking IRS official in contempt for refusing to testify in a congressional inquiry into politically motivated treatment by the IRS. While work quietly progressed on judicial nominations and a charter schools bill, those measures took a back seat to partisan bills typical in election years.
NSF-Funding Strong After Committee Markup
Funding for the National Science Foundation remained strong after the full committee marked up the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill this week. It includes $7.4 billion for NSF—the top funding agency across all three UI campuses—which is an increase of $237 million above last year’s level. However, echoing the authorizing committee’s expressed concerns about the value of social and behavioral research (SBE), the bill’s committee report states any increases above the President’s budget request should be dedicated to NSF’s non-SBE directorates.
Mitchell New Under Secretary for Dept of Ed
The Senate confirmed Ted Mitchell—former Occidental College President and top administrator at UCLA—this week to the Under Secretary for Education at the Department of Education. Martha Kanter served in the role, which coordinates postsecondary education policies and federal student aid, from 2009 to 2013. Secretary Arne Duncan’s statement can be found here.
Patent Troll Bill Languishing in Committee
In part due to concerns raised by the university community, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a markup of its patent troll legislation for a fifth time this week. While supportive of efforts to reform troll-like behavior, the University of Illinois opposes the overbroad bill because it weakens patents for all patent holders, threatening the unique role universities play in innovation and commercialization of new technologies, including those from federally funded research. Senate Majority Whip and Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently told Politico that he was “very concerned” about provisions the bill, casting doubt that the bill will receive a floor vote, even if the committee acts.
Campus Sexual Assault Roundtables Planned
Senators Claire McCaskill, Kirsten Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal announced that they will be holding several roundtables in DC this spring to discuss sexual violence on college campuses. The three scheduled roundtables, which are being organized by a Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. McCaskill, are expected to include student survivors, sex crimes prosecutors, and university representatives as participants. Below is a list of the roundtable dates and their anticipated focus areas:
- May 19: sexual crimes recording/reporting by colleges and universities (Clery Act)
- June 2: prohibition of gender discrimination in education (Title IX)
- June 16: intersection between campus administrative processes and local criminal justice systems
Related hearings are expected to be held over the summer as part of an effort to pass legislation to strengthen protections for victims.
Congressional Hearings Explore Unionization of College Athletes
The House Education and Workforce committee examined the recent NLRB decision that allowed Northwestern football players to unionize. The Republican-led panel, which heard from a university administrator, athletic director, and former student athletes, acknowledged that universities generally need to do a better job providing continued academic support to students who sustain a sports injury. However, the committee chairman argued that unionizing athletes would harm their academic and athletic careers. The panel’s ranking member made an impassioned plea for presidents to reassert control over athletic programs lest “college sports” take over higher education.
The Senate will hold a hearing next week, where it will also focus on academic support in athletic programs and examine whether the commercialization of college sports “is unfairly exploiting the talents and services of college athletes.”
ILLINOIS IN DC
UIC Highlights STEM Diversity Programs to Congress, Agencies
UIC Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Mitra Dutta showcased UIC's STEM education programs at an exhibition on the Hill sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). The annual exhibition offers universities and organizations an opportunity to demonstrate the successes they've had with NSF-funded research and education projects. Accompanying VCR Dutta were UIC Chemistry Professor Donald Wink and Chemical Engineering Professor Ludwig Nitsche.
During the exhibit, VCR Dutta engaged staff from NSF, OSTP, the Illinois delegation, and the House Science Committee. VCR Dutta also spoke with Rep. Rush Holt, Jr. (D-NJ), who has been a longtime champion for STEM education (pictured above).
Earlier in the day, VCR Dutta met with the Materials Sciences and Engineering Division Director at the Department of Energy's Office of Science, Linda Horton, where she discussed UIC's strengths in these disciplines.