Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, says he’s been asked by President Donald Trump to helm a federal task force that will advise the Department of Education, proposing potential changes to policies and procedures at the federal agency.
In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Falwell, an early supporter of the president, said he sees the formation of the task force as a response to the federal department’s “overreaching regulation” and micromanagement of accreditation.
In order for students to tap into federal aid, colleges and universities must be accredited by the Education Department. Falwell, however, sees the entire process as intrusive, and he’s not alone.
While Christian schools do receive federal grants, and are eligible for religious exemptions to new Title IX regulations protecting abortion and LGBT students established under former President Barack Obama, many school administrators fear that compliance with such regulations might one day be directly tied to receipt of federal dollars and tax exemption statuses.
According to The Washington Post, a lot of college and university leaders support deregulation in general. Many college administrations displayed frustration when former President Barack Obama’s administration worked to increase the oversight of higher education, on issues ranging from how schools respond to sexual assault reports to how institutions prepare students for gainful employment upon graduation.
“In the Department of Education, there’s too much intrusion into the independent accreditation,” he told the Post. “There’s too much intrusion into the operation of universities and colleges. I’ve got a whole list of concerns. It mainly has to do with deregulation.”
His goal in leading the task force, he explained to the Chronicle, is to walk federal regulations back in order to “give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs.” He added, “I’ve got notebooks full of issues,” though he offered no specifics.
Trump and Falwell seem to have similar concerns about the Department of Education. During a sit-down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last year, the president said, “The Department of Education is massive and it can be largely eliminated.”
Though Falwell sees the Education Department as overreaching, he doesn’t seem to favor an elimination of the federal agency. Instead, Falwell would rather see the department scale back its regulations, granting funds more freely to colleges while Trump would like to see less federal money being given to higher education all together.
In addition, Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, who was appointed by Obama to co-chair a 2015 task force on federal education regulation and is himself fairly liberal, concluded that regulation is “unnecessarily voluminous” and that compliance with those regulations is “inordinately costly,” according to the Post.
News of this job comes after Falwell said Trump offered him the role of education secretary, but he turned it down, telling the president, “I wanted a role that would allow me to stay at Liberty.”
That role has since been offered to billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos, a longtime supporter of charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for parents who send their children to private institutions.
Falwell praised Trump’s choice in DeVos, adding that his task force “will be a big help to her” and “will do some of the work for her.” Falwell didn’t give any specifics about how that might happen.
DeVos is awaiting confirmation from the Senate.
The Liberty president told several news outlets he kept the task force offer to himself until Tuesday, when Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, gave him the green light to share the news.