By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
This issue of Connections is bittersweet, as we pay tribute to Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU), which will no longer be affiliated with the Society of Jesus after this academic year. We invited a number of alumni and friends to share memories from their time at WJU, from members of the first graduating classes (when the University was called Wheeling College) to graduates in the new Millennium. We hope that you will enjoy reading their tributes and learning more about the special place that so many people called home for more than 60 years.
I’ve been fortunate to visit Wheeling Jesuit twice, during my twelve years at AJCU. It is indeed a special place, filled with some of the friendliest people you could hope to meet! The first time I went was with the AJCU staff for a summer retreat. Fr. Charlie Currie, S.J. was our president at the time, and he was especially eager to be our carpool driver to WJU—after all, this was his “home away from home,” where he served as president for almost a decade. While it was a joy to hear Fr. Currie talk about his time at WJU during the 4-hour ride, it was not exactly a joy sitting in the back seat…those were some winding roads that took us out of DC to get to West Virginia, and my colleagues and I had to grab onto the car doors of the “Currie-Coaster” more than once for safety! But we managed to arrive safe and sound, and very grateful for our introduction to Wheeling from Fr. Currie.
For my second visit in 2015, I was very eager to drive to Wheeling by myself, and really get to appreciate the path toward Appalachia from the driver’s seat. On that particular trip, I got to spend time with my former colleagues from JesuitNET, who worked tirelessly to bring Jesuit distance education to the margins, all from an old office building in downtown Wheeling, WV. You would never know what was happening in that building (just a mile away from campus) to make education possible for people who lived a continent away from ours. I think it was keeping consistent with the original mission for founding a Jesuit university in Appalachia: to bring higher education to the margins, where people needed it the most.
Our AJCU network will not be the same without Wheeling Jesuit University, and we will never forget the way it helped to shape men and women for others for so many years. We now have 27 full member institutions, and three associate members—our newest associate member, Newman College in Australia, is featured in this issue, and we are looking forward to sharing more news from Newman (as well as Campion College in Canada and St. John’s College in Belize) in the years to come.
This is the last issue of Connections for the academic year; we will return with a new issue in September. On behalf of all of us at AJCU, we wish you a wonderful and restful summer!
On Saturday, May 4, Wheeling Jesuit University (located in Wheeling, WV) hosted its final commencement ceremony as an institution affiliated with the Society of Jesus. We invited alumni and friends of the school to share memories from their time as students and/or employees, and to describe the impact that Wheeling Jesuit made on their lives.
Rev. James O’Brien, S.J.
Wheeling Jesuit College (now University) was a blessed and privileged place to be for the fifty plus years I was missioned there (1962-2015). A main reason for making such a claim was what we refer to as “the Wheeling feeling.” This runs much deeper than merely an occasional emotional high; rather, it is firmly rooted, integrated and very personal. Our self-contained campus and relatively small population brought students into close contact with an ongoing line of “persons for others” among faculty, administrators and staff—lay, Jesuit and other religious.
Over the years, as I watched energized, idealized students become responsible, involved adults, I was privileged to behold a beautiful growth into their family lives and professional dedications. Their warm, loving friendships are especially manifest in times of celebration, as well as crisis and loss. They are just “there” for each other. Rev. John Coll, S.J. (one of the “first-generation” Jesuits at Wheeling), voiced the observation that perhaps our most valuable work was in providing the space for students to get to know each other and become, if you will, a second faculty for each other. Many of these people are now practicing the ways of justice, encouraged by their experience of service during their campus years, as they express solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and practice a public advocacy. In short, Wheeling Jesuit has been a great gift in the Lord for all of us and, I’d like to think, for those with whom we come in contact. I hope and will surely pray that we continue to be grateful for it as we carry that “Wheeling feeling” with us wherever we go.
Dan Haller ‘61
I am a member of the third Wheeling College / Wheeling Jesuit University graduating class: the class of 1961. I am very grateful for the education I received and, more important, the personal encouragement and support I received from a dedicated and inspiring faculty, both Jesuit and lay. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my four years at Wheeling were the most formative of my life. Yet, there were no ivy-covered walls, no famous (as yet) alumni, no sacred traditions – nothing that would remind you of an established college, nothing except an excellent faculty that opened our minds and broadened our limited horizons. Our interactions with them occurred not just in the classroom, but also in the cafeteria over meals, as well as over coffee, cards and conversation. After graduation, I was fortunate to be able to retain and benefit from continued contact with many of them over the years.
The campus in those early days consisted of three architecturally undistinguished buildings: one for classrooms, another for administration and the third for the Jesuits. However, out of necessity, the second floor of Swint Administration became a freshman male dorm while the second and third floors of Whelan, the Jesuit residence, were used to house sophomore and, later, junior men. The women lived in two houses off campus during those first few years. The lack of actual dorm facilities during my first two years saw the Jesuits turning over their Whelan residence to us and moving to an orphanage a few miles away. Every morning at 7:30, they would return to campus crammed into a Volkswagen bus that came chugging up the campus drive.
While my own accommodation in Whelan, a nice room with a bath and cross ventilation, seemed perfect at first, I was soon jolted awake one morning by a jackhammer blasting away just under our back window. Coal had been discovered on the property. Its removal soon became a major operation with heavy equipment tearing up large sections of the campus well into the evening every day. In addition to the constant roar of heavy machinery, we soon had to deal with a sea of mud. Nevertheless, the education process and our class bonding proceeded well.
In all, 86 people graduated in my class. Most of us went on to graduate or professional schools at the urging and insistence of Rev. Jim Muldowney, S.J., a sociologist who, in addition to his many other endeavors, taught a seminal course on race relations in the United States that shattered so many of our complacent illusions. Our class produced one Rhodes semi-finalist, one Woodrow Wilson scholar, one White House Fellow, two foreign service officers (one of whom was killed while on a peace mission to Namibia), two medical doctors, two attorneys and numerous graduate degrees. My class was not unique—those same success stories have come out of all of the subsequent classes over the ensuing years. All this from a little Jesuit college founded by a bishop who, in the early 1950s, had invited the Jesuits to come west to Appalachia and establish a college to educate his people. And that they did so very well these many years.
Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D. (President, Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities)
My years at Wheeling Jesuit University as director of campus ministry and adjunct professor in theology (1990-2001) were some of the most meaningful years of my life. Accompanying students as they grew in wisdom and grace was an honor and privilege. Developing the leadership of our students through campus ministry, the EXCEL program, academics or athletics was central and life-giving. I thoroughly enjoyed the colleagueship in student affairs and the wonderful collaborations that emerged with faculty and the campus ministry staff. Whether during a noontime basketball game, the Christmas chapel concert, or Wednesday night Mass, the love of life, proclamation of the good news, and the care of the human person was central. Thanks, one and all, for journeying together. You will forever be etched in my soul.
Lou Volpe ‘70
Despite the rather challenging times in the late 1960s or, rather, because of the challenging times, Wheeling College (later Wheeling Jesuit University) proved to be for me and others a place of dialogue, discernment and possible direction for our lives. Very small and intimate in personality, the college was actually where we “lived” as well as studied; a place where we often ate with our professors; sat in the “snack bar” (how quaint a word and place it seems now with our super-everything society) discussing our philosophy, theology, chemistry and political science courses; and watched movies or heard scholarly talks in Troy Lounge. Many of us were wrestling with the rightness or wrongness of the Vietnam War; a good many of us were involved in service and the burgeoning issues of racial justice and world peace; and almost all of us were learning how to be friends and human beings on a deeper level. Surrounded by those lovely green hills in a fairly serene neighborhood, we were blessed with the gift of time and place to reflect a little more deeply and listen to that inner voice inside us—a combination of reason and intuition—which assured most of us that existence was a gift and a gift worth living well.
And on this rickety-rackety journey called “growing up,” we were blessed with faculty—lay and Jesuits alike—who impressed us with their intelligence and compassion. They accompanied us beyond the classroom, their conversations encouraging and challenging us to think and to act a little more for others. Quietly and diligently, without much fanfare, they brought home to us the importance of reading widely, writing clearly and perceptively and, most significantly, living ethically and spiritually. I still remember most of my professors’ names and faces; I still recall their kindnesses to us, even when we disagreed. They stretched themselves beyond their vocations as “academics” to reveal themselves as persons who were as alive and alert—and sometimes as agonized—as we youth ourselves. They, and this place called Wheeling College, introduced me to a certain kind of mature learning and loving which I have tried to gratefully bring to my own vocation.
Kelly Swan ‘04
There is something very powerful to be said about being educated in a place like Wheeling, WV, particularly through the lens of a Jesuit education. Wheeling Jesuit’s sense of place, in a small, Appalachian city, allowed for an intimate view of many of the issues facing post-industrial American society, including unemployment, poverty, addiction and issues surrounding the environment, race and class—but also community, innovation and creativity. The small size of the campus and surrounding community provided ample opportunities for accessible engagement in justice issues and leadership roles for students seeking to address them, in a very personal way not as easily found in larger cities. WJU’s location drew a diverse student body, its appeal enhanced by the low cost of living in the community compared to larger urban centers, creating a campus community that was, in many ways, a microcosm of American society. All of this, experienced through the lens of a person-centered, paradigm-challenging Jesuit education, offered those of us fortunate to spend our undergraduate years at WJU, an education deeply rooted in Jesuit spirituality and Appalachian realities, forming dynamic, educated, thoughtful, faithful adults in a space known most for its challenges.
Patrick S. Cassidy ‘70
The photograph seen here is from the cover of a 1969-1970 school year calendar prepared by Wheeling College. I don’t know who came up with the language of describing our education as “The Quiet Revolution,” but I can attest that during those years, that’s what we all believed about the education we were receiving at Wheeling. The school was out to change the world for the better, and we were expected to learn how to do it by using, as our only weapons, “inquiring minds” and “rational judgments.”
We thought the weapons sufficient, despite the deaths just the year before of Bobby Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., by weapons of hate. We were, the school promised, “moving liberal arts education into a new dimension of learning,” with an objective “to educate young men and women who will improve America’s social and economic vigor.”
Vince Sirianni ‘01
I am a graduate of the class of 2001 of what was once called Wheeling College, then Wheeling Jesuit College and, finally, Wheeling Jesuit University. Attending WJU remains one of the top five decisions of my life. I emerged from WJU with a strong sense of who I was and what direction I wanted my life to take. I also acquired quite the pile of lifelong friends who have since become family.
In 2013, circumstances offered me an opportunity to return and reengage with WJU. For the next 6 years I worked in the Enrollment Management and Marketing areas at a highly critical time for the University. During that time, I worked with some of the best people (staff, students, alumni, faculty, coaches) and developed deep bonds similar to those I made with my classmates. I was afforded the opportunity to lead Advent and Lenten employee prayer groups, student immersion experiences, and instruct in the school’s Honors program. I feel very blessed and grateful for my time there, working to advance the mission of the school. Specifically, being a part of the school’s Mission Priority Examen committee from 2017-2018 was one of the most life-giving and fulfilling career and spiritual experiences of my life.
In January, I flexed my Jesuit-influenced discernment muscles and determined it was time for me to move on from WJU to a new career opportunity. During the 5 months since that exit, I have watched, sadly and frustratingly, as academic and co-curricular programs have been cut. Earlier this spring, the Jesuits themselves determined it was time to end their 60+ year relationship with the school. It is a tremendously unfortunate end to a place that has been a source of hope, love and faith development for so many for more than half a century.
In spite of all of these events, I know confidently that I, countless classmates, and many former mentors and co-workers will continue to live lives of purpose and faith influenced strongly by Ignatian values learned in Wheeling. Hopefully, this will allow us all to carry on the spirit and goodness that was WC, WJC and WJU, forever.
Tim Cogan ‘69
What I got out of Wheeling College was enormous: a very good education and lifelong connections. After graduate school, I returned to Wheeling, WV, as did a cadre that diminished one by one as most left for greener economic pastures. I still frequented the campus, eventually returned to church there, attended some sports matches (the University’s sainted volleyball team won the NCAA D-II Women’s National Tournament in 2015), and even adjuncted at the University.
We recently lost the Jesuit affiliation of our alma mater, apart from campus ministry and the Appalachian Institute. That loss is like someone died. As one teacher said, WJU beautifully integrated its service mission throughout the institution. I maintain a vestigial loyalty to “Jesuit,” keeping a scholarship there for this coming academic year. One of my dearest moments was interacting with recipients of this particular scholarship. One lived at the Mother Jones House, a home for students who chose to live together “intentionally” as a community. That program was affected by budget cuts over the years, along with programs and faculty in the liberal arts. With little basis, I hope the Jesuit connection will continue beyond 2018-19 and might, somehow, some day, be expanded.
By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University
Rockhurst University is proud to be a part of the fabric of Kansas City, MO.
From its founding in 1910, at what was then the southern edge of the city, to the present day, the University lives its informal motto “in the city for good” both in its approach to its work and as a sincere appreciation for the great community that is Kansas City.
So why wouldn’t Rockhurst take the opportunity to tie one of its foremost academic rites of passage — commencement — to that idea, as well? This May marked the 10th time when (after their commencement ceremony) students gathered in front of the Municipal Auditorium downtown, to be led by bagpipes to the KC Live Block — a popular public gathering space inside of the city’s Power and Light District. It’s a march known as the Hawk Walk.
Ten years might not be that long in terms of campus traditions but since 2009, the march has become an anticipated ritual for current students. “They tell students about it when they move in for freshman orientation,” said Brent Blazek, assistant director of alumni relations and a 2017 graduate of Rockhurst’s MBA program. “We’re really happy that it has been able to build momentum in that way.”
It can be tough for an event to become a tradition but in the years since it started, Hawk Walk has become as much a part of the commencement experience as flipping that tassel to the other side of the graduation cap.
“At the time, I was really excited to be going to the next step in my life, even though it meant leaving some of my friends and classmates behind,” said Katie Killen, ’09. “Hawk Walk gave me a chance to say goodbye to a lot of people all at once — it really solidified this idea that Rockhurst is a family.”
But, perhaps more importantly, Hawk Walk is an exclamation point on the commencement weekend, which begins with the Baccalaureate Mass on the Friday before the ceremony. Students leave Municipal Auditorium as college graduates and leave the KC Live Block hours later as alumni. The time in between — Hawk Walk – is where that ecstatic transition takes place in real time.
“It’s the second half of that graduation experience — the commencement ceremony itself is very formal,” Blazek said. “Hawk Walk is a chance for the graduates to celebrate together in a more casual environment.”
It all starts with a three-block parade through the streets led by Kansas City’s St. Andrew Pipes and Drums, set against the background of downtown’s mix of old and new architecture, from the iconic pylons at the Bartle Hall Convention Center to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Rockhurst’s president, Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., frequently welcomes graduates and family members into the KC Live Block with a decidedly festive hat featuring a pair of clapping plastic hands. Then comes a jubilant hat toss, and a quick welcome from the president of the University’s Young Alumni Council. What happens then is part block party and part family reunion, featuring music, food and drink, and a photobooth with Fr. Curran.
“We typically have about 2,500 to 3,000 people in the KC Live Block,” Blazek said. “Once we get everyone from point A to point B, our job really is to make sure that they all have a good time.”
Even for an event marking the culmination of her college experience, Killen said that Hawk Walk was an unexpectedly poignant moment. Thinking back to her own graduation, she remembered making her way through the crowd, seeking out good friends for goodbyes, and again and again bumping into those with whom she had shared some smaller connection — a class or two, maybe — over her four years at Rockhurst. They all got goodbyes, as well.
“I don’t know that you would get those same little moments at a larger school,” she said.
As much as the event is about experiencing the present moment, it’s also about the past and the future. Kansas City is in the midst of a renaissance embodied by downtown’s revitalization and efforts such as the streetcar line, which opened in 2016 and runs right through the city. For many students, Kansas City is a central part of their experience as a Rockhurst student.
“From day one when you get to campus, you hear about the Jesuit philosophy and looking around your community to see where you can serve and make it better,” said Killen.
Killen added that, after graduation, she took that advice to heart, working for the nearby city of Shawnee, Kansas, and still has a passion to serve her community. She said, “In hindsight, during Hawk Walk, I think a lot of us were walking through the streets of this place [that] we were going to serve in one way or another.”
As part of their multi-day commencement activities, Georgetown University hosted its annual “Social Justice Send-Off” ceremony on Friday, May 21. The ceremony gave special recognition to nearly 100 Georgetown seniors who had been actively involved in social justice work (including service, research and academics) during their years at Georgetown. Many of the graduates recognized for their work are going on to pursue careers in the social justice and public service realms around the United States and abroad—including China, India and South Korea. Several of the graduates will be working with Jesuit Volunteer Corps and organizations like Catholic Charities.
The keynote speaker for this year’s program was Hawah Kasat, co-founder and executive director of One Common Unity, a non-profit organization that supports peace education and building a non-violent culture through music and art. Kasat framed his remarks around four lessons that he has used as a personal guide:
Keeping perspective and living each day as if it is the most important in your life;
Taking care of yourself so that you are able to serve others;
Listening to your intuition and having the courage to act on it; and
Not letting the need for perfection stand in the way of taking action.
Scott Fleming, AJCU’s interim Vice President for Federal Relations and former Associate Vice President for Federal Relations at Georgetown, also offered remarks during the ceremony. He reflected on the dramatic growth in student engagement around community and public service in recent years. Fleming himself is a Georgetown alum, who first stepped on campus fifty years ago, at a time when the Vietnam War was never far from students’ minds.
But the late 1960s also saw Georgetown students volunteering through the newly-established Georgetown University Community Action Program, and supporting national efforts to provide relief to Bangladesh (which had recently suffered a civil war) through organizations like OXFAM and the American Friends Service Committee.
Today, Georgetown students volunteer through the University’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service and Office of Mission & Ministry, and participate in service-learning through the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, Center for Student Engagement and the Cawley Career Education Center, all within the Division of Student Affairs. And they learn about the pressing faith and justice issues faced across our country and the world through programs and lectures sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, and the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.
In his remarks during the ceremony, Fleming said, “At a time when many are concerned about whether our country is at risk of losing our sense of justice and compassion and of doing what we know to be right, I am confident and assured that these graduates will remain ‘life-long Men and Women for Others.’”
At the end of each academic year, Newman College (the newest associate member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) holds the Valete Mass and dinner for those who are completing their degree at the University of Melbourne and have been a resident in the College for the duration of their whole degree (be it undergraduate or graduate).
Last year, forty-three students participated in the Valete Mass and dinner. Below is the text of the homily given by Rev. Bill Uren, S.J., rector of the College, during the Mass, which was held in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit on Friday, October 5, 2018. We thank Guglielmo Gottoli, deputy provost of Newman College, for sharing the homily with AJCU for publication in this issue of Connections.
We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7)
About three weeks ago, The Australian published a special anniversary issue of its weekend magazine. It was, the editor pointed out, thirty years since we celebrated Australia’s Bicentenary, when the First Fleet of eleven convict ships arrived into Sydney Harbour on January 26, 1788.
As it was thirty years since the Bicentenary, the editor of the magazine arranged for interviews on the topic with thirty prominent Australians. They were invited to comment on what they considered to be the most significant developments in Australia over the past thirty years; what they would have changed if they could during that time; and what would be their their wishes for the next thirty years. The final question invited them to nominate the Australian they most admired.
The immunologist, Ian Frazer, nominated another distinguished immunologist, Sir Gustav Nossal. The Aboriginal leader, Noel Pearson, nominated former Prime Minister, Paul Keating. The cricketer, Adam Gilchrist, nominated actor, Hugh Jackman. Medical pioneer of the bionic ear, Graeme Clark, and poet and critic, Clive James, both nominated Sir Howard Florey, who developed the drug, penicillin. The athlete, Cathy Freeman, nominated the ophthalmologist and humanitarian, Fred Hollows, whom we heard about in the Mannix Lecture at Newman this past August.
The two, however, who interested me most were both famous Australian authors. Tim Winton nominated his mother, Bev. He wrote, “She’s in her 80s, she’s crippled with arthritis, and can’t drive anymore, but she still volunteers every week as a mentor to struggling kids in primary school.”
Richard Flanagan, the winner of the Man Booker Prize for literature in 2014, nominated his nephew. He wrote, “My schizophrenic nephew, Billy, [is] a battler who lives in nightmares and never gives up, who somehow manages a life of kindness and dignity. That’s achievement. That’s courage. Only the goodness of others sustains him. And sustained he is. That’s him. And that’s the Australia I love.”
St. Paul reminded us in this evening’s First Reading that, like Tim Winton’s mother, Bev, and like Richard Flanagan’s nephew, Billy, we are all earthenware jars: cracked and chipped perhaps, but not any less admirable or any less useful. In Jesus’ and Saint Paul’s day, earthenware jars were used to contain and conserve all sorts of commodities – foods, liquids, clothes, odds and ends, treasures even. In the absence of glass, tin, cardboard and plastic, earthenware was the standard container. It was serviceable, but, of course, it was also fragile. It could sustain chips and hairline cracks, but if you dropped an earthenware vessel, it was very likely to break.
So, an earthenware jar is a good metaphor for the human condition. We all have our cracks and our chips, but, provided we are handled carefully, we are capable of quite significant achievements. We may contain treasures. As St. Paul says, we may be in difficulties on all sides, but we are never cornered; we may see no answer to our problems, but we do not despair; we may be knocked down, but never killed. In a way, we are better than earthenware jars because, although we are certainly vulnerable and fragile like them, we are also resourceful and resilient.
Nonetheless, however, we recognize that there are times when our chips and our cracks appear. Then we are like the Apostles in this evening’s Gospel. James and John persuaded their mother to approach Jesus and ask him for positions of honor in what they hoped would be his future kingdom. When the other Apostles heard that James and John stole the march on them in making this request, they were indignant. So, Jesus had to instruct them all that his kingdom is not about honor and power, but about service: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Apostles were very human, very fragile individuals. They took a long time to understand what Jesus was on about. Judas ultimately betrayed Jesus; Peter denied him in his hour of need; some of them were virtually racists; others were proto-terrorists; and James and John were both ambitious and opportunists. They certainly were chipped and cracked earthenware pots. Yet these were the Twelve whom Jesus chose to convey his message to the world. And after a desperate time of doubt and disillusionment when Jesus was executed, they bounced back and became inspired and courageous heralds of Christ’s message. But they had to become aware of their own fragility – like Peter’s shame after denying Jesus three times – and to learn that following Jesus means not honor and power, but service in the Christian and, indeed, wider, community—cracked and chipped earthenware pots, but holding a veritable treasure.
Now, most of us are aware of our own chips and cracks, even like Tim Winton’s arthritic mother, Bev, and Richard Flanagan’s schizophrenic nephew, Billy. But they can be marks of honor, battle scars, as it were, in our life’s journey. It is not the outward appearance but the treasure that we carry within us that matters. So, briefly, let’s identify this treasure. May I ask a few questions?
Are you honest and truthful, transparent in your dealing with others?
Do you treat other people with courtesy and respect?
Do you apologize when you have given offense and forgive others when they have offended you?
Do you reject all forms of sexism and racism? Do you reject any form of discriminating among people purely on the basis of the color of their skin, their country or suburb of origin, their wealth or poverty, their sexual orientation, their intellectual, cultural or sporting achievements or lack of them?
Are you an agent of reconciliation and compassion, especially for those on the margins of our society?
The answers to these questions identify the treasures with which we should be trying to fill the earthenware pots that symbolize our human condition: honesty, truthfulness, transparency, loyalty, courtesy, respect, and a forgiving, non-discriminatory, compassionate spirit.
We hope that these are the virtues – the treasures – that living at Newman has fostered not only in our valetants in the years they have been with us, but also in all of us who have participated in this community of the mind, the imagination, the heart and the spirit in 2018. And that, despite our chipped, cracked and, at times, very earthenware condition, these virtues will shine forth and illuminate in service those with whom we come in contact.
“Luceat lux vestra” – “Let your light shine.”
By Scott Fleming, Interim Vice President for Federal Relations, AJCU
Congress and the Administration have not reached an agreement on how to adjust budget caps which, under the Budget Control Act of 2011, would require massive discretionary spending cuts impacting defense and non-defense accounts in FY20. Likewise, no real movement has occurred on raising the debt ceiling before the Administration runs out of options to avoid borrowing more money (likely in late summer or early fall).
Rumors have been flying around Washington about what lies ahead. One week we hear that the President would rather have the government operate under a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) – thereby maintaining current funding levels – until after the November 2020 election. The next week, we hear concern among Congressional Republicans about the potential consequences of operating under CRs, and that the Administration is open to reaching a bipartisan deal. This week saw an initial meeting on this topic with bipartisan House and Senate leaders, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
There has been some encouraging news out of the House of Representatives this month. On May 8, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY20 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations bill. Over the past few decades, this bill has typically been the last to be considered by Committee. Having it scheduled first makes a statement about its priority to the Committee, which has dubbed it, “The People’s Bill.” Since an overall budget framework has not been reached, the mark-up took place under a “deeming resolution,” which set allocations for each Subcommittee’s bill and included an increase of $11.8 billion over current funding levels for “The People’s Bill.” The deeming resolution was approved on a party line vote, which makes clear that compromises will be necessary down the road.
Highlights of the bill for student financial aid and higher education programs include:
A $150 increase for the maximum Pell Grant to $6,345;
$1 billion in funding for Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (an increase of $188 million over FY19);
$1.4 billion for Federal Work Study (a $304 million increase);
$1.1 billion for the TRIO programs (a $100 million increase);
$350 million for a Temporary Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (designed to help students who have been told they are no longer on track for loan forgiveness after having pursued careers that should have qualified them to participate);
$53 million for Teacher Quality Partnerships;
$10 million to restart the Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success program; and
$80.4 million for Title VI and Fulbright-Hays international education programs (an increase of $15.3 million).
In its report accompanying the bill, the Appropriations Committee listed specific requirements for the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance and updates on the following:
Perkins loan cancellation repayment by January 1, 2020;
The Department’s “Second Chance Pell” experiment; and
Recommendations for improving Federal support for campus programming by providing support services for first-generation students.
With regard to medical research and training, the bill also includes:
A $2.2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (bringing the funding to $41 billion); and
$855 million for health professions training programs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with a specific reference to colleges and universities as logical places for that kind of training.
For more detail on the Committee’s work, please click here.
It is likely that the appropriations bill will reach the House floor in June. In the Senate, no action has been taken on appropriations measures. Senate Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has indicated that it is his strong preference to have a budget agreement before moving forward, but there is some talk now of the Senate passing its own deeming resolution and beginning action on its own appropriations process. In any event, it is safe to predict that the House bill is the high-water mark for funding levels.
Just last week, the Administration sent Congress a proposed “budget amendment” designed to provide increased funds for NASA by rescinding $1.9 billion in funds from the Pell reserve account. The proposal received objections from House Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and members of the higher education community, including the Committee for Education Funding (see CEF’s letter here).
There has been action on other issues of importance to AJCU as well: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA); tax treatment of scholarship funds in excess of tuition and fees; and immigration:
HEA Reauthorization: Serious discussions continue between Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and their staffs, on developing a bipartisan bill to serve as the basis for Committee action. There are still a good number of issues to be resolved between the two sides, but reports indicate that they are making progress. Likewise, the House Education and Labor Committee is holding a series of hearings and Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) continues to work with his staff to revise the AIM HIGHER Reauthorization bill, which was introduced by Committee Democrats last Congress and would likely be the starting point for action in the House.
Taxes: The House of Representatives is expected this week to approve legislation to correct an unintended change in the tax treatment of students’ scholarships in excess of tuition and fees, which came about through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). AJCU signed onto a letter from higher education associations urging passage of this legislation; AJCU’s president, Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., also sent a letter, urging the House leadership to move the legislation forward. While scholarships beyond tuition and fees have long been subject to taxation, the tax rate has been typically low for families of students who receive need-based aid. The TCJA changed the rate to that of income from trusts and estates, which is significantly higher. The House bill would repeal this change and return the tax rate to its previous level.
Immigration: On March 26, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reintroduced their bipartisan DREAM Act. They will be adding cosponsors as pairs of Republicans and Democrats in order to maintain bipartisan sponsorship. In the House of Representatives, components of H. R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, were approved at an extended mark-up in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 22. The Dream Act (H.R. 2820), as reported by the Committee, would provide eligibility for individuals who have been in the U. S. continuously for four years prior to enactment of the legislation; who entered the United States before they turned 18; and who have completed or are enrolled in educational programs or military service. The bill does, of course, include a variety of factors – largely relating to criminal history – that would be disqualifying. The bill also authorizes grant funds to be available to non-profit organizations to assist individuals with the application process.
There will be a lot of action on these issues over this summer. While this is the last Federal Relations report for Connections until September, we will continue to share updates on the Federal Relations page of the AJCU website: ajcunet.edu/policy-corner.