H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, should no longer incite panic in the academic community.

It has been surrounded by controversy, largely because of ongoing “calls to action” against this bill, despite the fact that much of the troublesome language found in the original version of the bill was removed or resolved through the legislative process.

This bill is part of the comprehensive effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. More specifically, it is the House bill that addresses Title VI, Business and International Education, of the act. Although the House of Representatives has passed several bills as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization effort, the Senate has not yet introduced its reauthorization legislation. Furthermore, while the Senate could choose to introduce and consider the House version of the bill during its own reauthorization process, it is more likely that the Senate will write and pass its own bill and that the final legislation will be adopted through the bicameral conference process and subsequent approval by each legislative body.

Concern about the bill is focused largely on the International Advisory Board, which was initially perceived as having the authority to impose curricular mandates or restrictions upon universities. While nearly all federal education and scholarship programs have advisory boards that oversee the activities of these programs, there was concern that this International Advisory Board would have inappropriate investigative authority over individual grantees and projects funded by the Department of Education. Although it is true that the original version of the bill did give the Advisory Board authority to “annually monitor, apprise, and evaluate the activities of grant recipients — which may include an evaluation of the performance of grantees,” the final version of the bill reduces the authority of the committee considerably. In fact, the bill now explicitly states that “nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the International Advisory Board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.” The roles and responsibilities of the International Advisory Board, as outlined in the final version of the House bill, are in alignment with those of other federal advisory boards, including the advisory boards that review programs at the National Science Foundation and the National Security Education Program.

Similarly, there was an initial concern that the authority to select members of the International Advisory Board was too narrowly focused on representatives of the majority party. In the original version of H.R. 3077, the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had the full authority to select all seven members of the advisory board. However, in the final version of the bill, the selection authority is divided among a variety of government representatives. Three members are to be selected by the Secretary of Education in consultation with the directors of government security agencies, while the remaining four members are selected through bipartisan recommendations of the House and Senate Majority and Minority leaders. While this selection process is somewhat unique, it is consistent with other federal advisory boards. Note that in the case of the Fulbright-Hayes Foreign Scholarship Board, all 12 members are selected by the president, while in the case of the National Security Education Board, members are either representatives of executive agencies (Commerce, State, Defense, Energy, Education, CIA) or are appointed by the president with consent of the Senate.

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with Members of Congress and their staffs to share our concerns about pending legislation. And, as we have seen through the evolution of the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, Congress is responsive to our concerns. Having had a positive influence on the International Education Act of 2003, it would now benefit the higher education community to be mindful of the progress we have made and to be sure that any continuing concerns are based on thoughtful analysis of the actual legislation.

Diane Jones is the director of the Office of Government Affairs at Princeton University.