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Senator Ups the Ante in Dispute With Higher Ed Group

06/03/2014

Inside Higher Ed. May 30, 2014.

Senator Claire McCaskill on Thursday stepped up pressure on a top higher education lobbying group to turn over copies of a presentation that advised colleges on how to respond to her survey on campus sexual violence.

The Democratic lawmaker sent a letter to the American Council on Education on Thursday that said the group should either provide the webinar materials she previously requested or offer a legal justification for its refusal to hand over the documents.

The letter escalates a dispute that began earlier this month when McCaskill accused the higher education association of interfering with her effort to collect information from colleges about their sexual assault policies. The American Council on Education had sponsored a webinar, conducted by a Washington D.C. law firm, that advised colleges on how they should respond the McCaskill’s survey. The group maintains that the online briefing did not discourage institutions from responding to the survey, but it has refused to provide copies of the presentation materials or a list of which institutions participated. Ada Meloy, general counsel at the American Council on Education, called McCaskill’s request for information about the webinar an intrusion on colleges “rights to association."

McCaskill’s letter on Thursday reiterated her request for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation and struck a harsher tone.  

“While I appreciate your commitment to your members’ confidentially, I question how that commitment would prevent you from providing the presentation materials used during the webinar,” McCaskill wrote.  

 “If ACE continues to refuse to comply with my request,” she continued. “I request that you provide a written response containing ACE’s legal justification for refusing to provide a Subcommittee of the United States Senate with information necessary to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.”

A spokesman for the American Council on Education said Thursday that the group is “in communication with Senator McCaskill and her staff about this issue.” The organization declined further comment on the matter.

McCaskill is drafting -- along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- legislation aimed at reducing campus sexual assaults. She has said she’s interested in increasing the penalties colleges face for violating federal rules on handling cases of sexual violence on their campus.