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Key Things to Know About Duke’s Advocacy on Federal Immigration Policy

As we near the end of April and the conclusion of the spring 2021 semester, we are also approaching the 100th day in office for President Biden. While his administration has been vocal about working to reverse many immigration policies of the Trump administration, much of the work in this area takes time. Given this, here is a review of where things stand right now on several key immigration priorities for Duke and what may change as many colleges and universities are planning for the 2021-2022 academic year.

1) Reopening consulates and embassies is a top priority

Despite progress on many fronts in the battle against the COVID pandemic, there are still lasting effects impacting many international students. Notably, many international travel restrictions remain in place. While at the same time many U.S. consulates and embassies are still closed to in-person interviews which are currently required for student visa approvals.

Duke has joined many peer schools and higher education associations in urging the State Department and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize student visa applications. While some progress is being made, for instance in India, Duke and others in higher education are urging the Administration to maintain flexibility for international students through the fall 2021 semester as visa processing works to catch up from the backlog built up over the course of the pandemic.

Recommended steps to address these issues were outlined in a letter sent to Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas on behalf of major higher education associations, many of which Duke is member.

2) DACA recipients deserve long-term stability

Higher education associations and industry leaders have submitted multiple letters to the Senate urging their passage of the Dream Act of 2021, which was recently passed by the House of Representatives. While the Dream Act of 2021 does not represent a comprehensive approach to all immigration issues, Duke recognizes it is an important first step in addressing several key priorities for our student and employee recipients of DACA.

President Price recently joined other leaders from the Carolinas in urging Congress to take up important immigration related legislation.

President Biden has also signed Executive Orders on preserving and fortifying DACA and restoring faith in our legal immigration system. Additionally, DHS Secretary Mayorkas has reiterated the Department’s intent to issue new rules in support of the President’s EO.

3) Likelihood of Congressional action on visas remains uncertain

As is always the case, there are numerous proposals in Congress to change the visa system in the United States. Many are simply partisan messaging bills staking out positions to restrict or expand visa access.

However, there is bipartisan agreement in Congress on some areas that would impact Duke, including changing the per-country visa caps and security concerns, particularly from Chinese nationals. Any legislative changes to visa policy would likely be part of a broader immigration package that the Biden administration is currently negotiation for with Congress. While the likelihood of passage and scope of immigration legislation remains uncertain, Duke and the higher education associations remain in constant contact with the administration and Congress about our priorities.

Triangle Universities Join Forces to Discuss Federally Funded Research in the Region

North Carolina’s universities are extremely successful in attracting federal research dollars to the state. Reported in the most recent National Science Foundation (NSF) annual Higher Education Research & Development (HERD) Survey, the Triangle area universities, taken together, performed $3 billion in research during fiscal year 2019. 

On April 8th, Sandy Williams, Duke’s Vice President for Research and Innovation, joined senior research leaders from North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce Science, Technology and Innovation Office for “The Impact of Federal Research Investment: Research Triangle Region of North Carolina.” The virtual roundtable discussion showcased the impact of those federal investments to the state of North Carolina and beyond.

Williams, along with his colleagues, provided a high-level overview of the Triangle research enterprise, beginning with a few examples of past federal investments that are impacting North Carolinian’s today, including previous funding that helped build capacity for the quick development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The panelists also noted the multiple public-private partnerships that support innovation in the state and collaborations between the universities, from research projects to joint programs and centers to shared resources and facilities, that further strengthen the region’s research and innovation ecosystem.

 Staff from several congressional offices and committees were in attendance, including those representing members of the North Carolina delegation.

What’s in Store for the New Administration & Congress?

Duke in DC’s Beyond Talking Points

Duke letters with DC skylines in background.

Congress and the Biden administration have been working to fill key cabinet posts and settle on committee assignments. With the most recent COVID rescue package signed into law, their attention now turns to a set of other issues to focus on in the coming months.

Over the past few weeks, experts from across Duke University and the Aspen Institute linked up for Duke in DC’s Beyond Talking Points to discuss their top considerations on a range of policy issues facing the United States.

Beyond Talking Points is a regular briefing series exposing government officials, policy staff at think tanks, NGOs, media, and others in the federal policy community on Capitol Hill and the administration to in-depth discussions on critical issues facing America and the world. Each event features a complex and relevant policy topic to be discussed by a panel of experts from Duke and external organizations.

This recent iteration of the series took place over consecutive Friday mornings in mid-February through early March, bringing together an interdisciplinary group of panelists from across Duke University. The events included faculty from the Sanford School of Public Policy, Samuel W. DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the Duke Energy Initiative.

The first event, Rebuilding National Security Infrastructure and Improving Civ-Mil Relations, included Duke panelists Rubenstein Fellow Susan Gordon and professor Peter Feaver along with David Forscey from the Aspen Institute. The panelists for second conversation, Health Inequalities & Racial Injustice During COVID-19, were professors Keisha Bentley-Edwards and Anna Gassman-Pines from Duke and Tiffany Day from the Aspen Institute. Finally, professors Kate Konschnik and Brian Murray joined Greg Gershuny from the Aspen Institute for the third conversation, Energy & Utilities

In each of the conversations, the speakers explained their take on the current policy environment and provided their recommendations for the 117th Congress and President Joe Biden. You can watch a recording from each conversation on YouTube Live here and read a summary recapping each event by clicking on the titles’ hyperlinks.

The events were attended by a range of congressional staffers representing over 60 House and 20 Senate member offices, including 6 different offices representing North Carolina’s congressional delegation, as well as 5 Senate and 6 House committees. Other attendees included staff from nearly 20 different federal agencies.

Coming up later this spring, join Duke in DC for the next round of Beyond Talking Points conversations focused on environmental justice. Follow us on Twitter @DukeinDC for more announcements about this series.

By Lizzie Devitt, posted 3/18/2021

Energy & Utilities in the Biden Administration and 117th Congress

On March 5th, Duke in DC hosted the event “Energy & Utilities,” part of its Beyond Talking Points series. The panelists included Greg Gershuny, executive director of the Energy and Environment Program, Aspen Institute, Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and Brian Murray, director of the Duke University Energy Initiative. The discussion was moderated by Kristi Swartz, a reporter at E&E news based in Atlanta.

The panelists kicked off the discussion by listing off each of their biggest areas of focus going into the Biden administration and new Congress.

Brian Murray’s top priorities:

Brian Murray marked his first priority as the system needs that will be necessary to meet the Biden administration’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon electricity by 2035. Murray explained “firm balancing resources” including renewable technologies, like wind and solar, will be critical for reaching that goal. He also stressed the importance of looking “at the other side of the balancing equation, which is firm and flexible grid resources to counter the intermittency of renewables.”

Murray’s second priority is transmission. He explained that “renewable energy potential is not distributed evenly across the landscape and neither are the people that use electricity, so we are going to need an infrastructure to move electrons from where they originate to where they are used.” He went on to note, “transmission is largely a private investment, but the government incentives can play a role there as well, for instance in the form of tax credits.”

Third, Murray emphasized, “We need to spread the love beyond the electricity sector to the rest of the economy by electrifying those other sectors.” Innovators need to start finding ways to implement the use of electric energy in transportation, homes and industry. “A big role the federal government can play is to be a big buyer of these technologies,” Murray explained, “The U.S. government is the largest single buyer in our economy, and they have tremendous buying power.”

Greg Gershuny’s top priorities:

 “When we think about the grid… the first thing is we need to think of 2035 as a spot on the horizon that we are aiming for, but we also do keep going after that. The grid is going to continue to evolve and change into the future.”

Gershuny highlighted the importance of critical technologies, “As the Department of Energy (DOE) is beginning to implement… we need to think about how we go from the 40% of clean electricity now, to the 80% or so that we’re going to need by 2030. And the last 20% between 2030 and 2035, which is going to be hard to do.”

Among the solutions for this transition, Gershuny added that long-duration battery storage,  hydrogren storage and pumped-storage are some of the things that we need to be working on and developing now in order to impact the grid by 2030.

Kate Konschnik’s top priorities:

Her three areas of focus are related to federalism and governance. Konschnik pointed to the distinction between federal and state rules under the Federal Power Act, particularly related to resource adequacy and transmission planning. “States are supposed to have jurisdiction over generation…but we’re seeing in the northeast what happens when state preferences for particular new capacity and the markets collide,” which Konschnik notes Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is going to have to address.

Second, Konschnik is paying attention to the federal versus market roles in determining fair and reasonable rates that are not “unduly discriminatory against particular technologies.”

“We’ve never had a court actually say, it is ok for the markets to be determining the fundamental questions in the Federal Power Act… We are going to be seeing those regional markets figuring out how to change the rules to induce more aggregation of distributed energy.”

Lastly, Konschnik emphasized the need to consider what the public’s role in all of this should be. She explained that in recent years, “we’ve seen sort of a democratization of the grid,” so we have a lot more market participants and more public policy groups being brought to the table, which creates added tension between the core values of affordability and reliability of the grid and how we can also include public policy goals like decarbonization.

Texas Blackouts

Regarding the Texas blackouts in February, Brian Murray stated, the problems in Texas last month showed us that renewable energy needs to work seamlessly with the dispatchable generation to meet demand.” He also clarified that “wind did not bring the systems down in Texas. Fossil and nuclear resource shutdowns were the main culprit there, but there is going to be an increased reliance on variable resources like wind and solar, that is going to amplify the need to quickly balance the system when demand surges and supplies diminish.”

“These markets are supposed to be designed, in the case of electricity, to deliver an essential public good, so they need to be designed and not purely left to market forces.”

Konschnik added that the Texas crisis also highlights the issues related to the current “patchwork of energy regulation.”

“What we saw in Texas was extreme temperatures froze gas coming out of the wellheads and across all of the supply systems, and suddenly we had no gas for gas-fired power plants, they were not winterized, even though NERC and FERC wrote a report in 2011 after there were also rolling blackouts in Texas after another winter snap that said (Texas) needs to winterize these because if they can’t run, it doesn’t matter if you have reserve margins.”

Greg Gershuny explained a key pitfall of design is leaving out considerations of reliability. He stated, “It is more expensive to have a more reliable grid, most Americans have a grid up 99.97% of the time, but those hours that (power) is down can be really bad hours. For those that are most vulnerable, it can be the difference between life and death.”

By Lizzie Devitt, posted on 3/5/21.

2021 in Washington, Hitting the Ground Running

AP Image

There has been a flurry of activity in just one month of the Biden administration and 117th Congress. In his first few weeks in office, President Biden has already ordered a significant number of executive actions and laid out many of his legislative plans, several of which directly impact Duke. At the same time, the new Congress has brought about a handful of changeups on House and Senate committees.

Duke’s Office of Government Relations has created new and updated pages on its website that keep track of all executive orders, regulations and cabinet-level appointments relevant to Duke, as well as letters and statements from Duke and Duke-affiliated associations and updated info on the North Carolina delegation and the 117th Congress.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also provides regular updates on new developments in higher education in the early days of the Biden-Harris administration.

Biden-Harris Administration: Executive Orders and Appointments

The President passed several key executive orders in just his first few days in the White House alone. Another one of Biden’s first actions was to issue a regulatory freeze and review on all existing federal agency regulatory activity from the prior administration. A regulatory freeze is often requested by a newly installed President who seeks to ensure that the rules taking effect during their term reflect their administration’s priorities.

Over the last few weeks, Biden has also named the vast majority of his selections for cabinet-level positions and federal research agency leads in his administration. For a comprehensive list of administration positions and the status of nominations and confirmations, you can visit our website here.


Congress successfully passed the 2021 budget resolution on February 5th, which is the vehicle to complete the budget reconciliation process and by extension, pass another COVID-19 relief package. President Biden has proposed a COVID-19 stimulus package that totals $1.9 trillion. Of this amount, $600 million will be provided to the National Science Foundation to fund new or extend existing projects to prevent, prepare or respond to COVID-19, 150 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, $135 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities and $35 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF),

Members of Congress also reintroduced the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act. The RISE Act, which was co-led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and also originally signed by North Carolina Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), David Rouzer (R-NC) and Deborah Ross (D-NC), would authorize emergency funding to the federal research agencies to mitigate impacts of COVID-19 to the research enterprise. Duke is an original endorser of the RISE Act.


For the first time in history, the Presidential Science Advisor is a Cabinet-level position. President Biden appointed Eric Lander to this position, who is also nominated to be the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). President Biden also created a new position at OSTP, deputy director for science and society, which has been filled by sociologist Alondra Nelson.

On January 27th, the President issued a memorandum, Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking, which outlines the priorities of the Biden administration on research and science. The memo emphasizes the administration’s goals to make evidence-based decisions and also creates a Task Force on Scientific Integrity.

In Congress, North Carolina’s newly-elected member Rep. Deborah Ross (D-NC) has been selected to serve on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently announced his intent to introduce a legislative package to “outcompete China.” Core to this proposal will be a revamped Endless Frontiers Act, which would create a new Technology Directorate at the newly renamed National Science and Technology Foundation and provide substantial investments in key technological areas like artificial intelligence, quantum and advanced manufacturing.


President Biden has made a number of executive actions related to climate during the first few weeks of his administration, including the creation of the Climate Innovation Working Group, which is part of the National Climate Task Force, and calling for the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C). The Climate Innovation Working Group will coordinate federal government-wide activities for climate innovation and, as one example of this work, the Department of Energy announced a $100 million investment through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to support transformational low-carbon energy technologies.

Higher Ed

Biden has stated that a priority of his administration will be on student loan debt relief. In his first few days, the President requested that the Department of Education extend its pause on federal student loan borrowers’ repayment and interest through October 2021, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite pressure from Democrats in Congress, the Biden White House has signaled their reluctance to write-off student loan debt through executive action, instead preferring Congress to act. Along the lines of affordability, Duke and several higher education associations are advocating for a doubling of the maximum Pell grant; a request that is in-line with a Biden campaign proposal.

In Congress, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) was selected to serve as Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, following the retirement of former committee chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).


The President has issued numerous orders around immigration including ending family separations at the border, a reversal of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, a reversal of the public charge rule, a reversal of a Trump administration rule that would seek to raise the admissions cap.

On February 18th, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which seeks to create a path to citizenship for immigrants and prioritize visas with the highest paying jobs, was introduced by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA).

The legislation builds on President Joe Biden’s efforts mentioned above and would strengthen the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, remove per-country caps that prevent residents of any single country from getting more than 7 percent of the total number of employment-based green cards and also create a pilot program setting aside 10,000 visas for immigrants whose employment is deemed “essential” to economic development in the areas they will settle. Under the legislation, American universities would be better able to retain and recruit talent in scientific research.

There are several other higher education specific provisions included, but this bill will be the start of a long process and passage remains uncertain.

However, the speed of action and prioritization of immigration reform could change depending on the outcome of a current challenge to DACA by several states, led by Texas. A federal judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks.

Science & Security & Foreign Influence

Congressional proposals to address issues related to foreign influence in the nation’s research enterprise and higher education have arisen early in the 117th Congress. Several bills that languished at the end of the 116th Congress have been reintroduced, and several amendments scrutinizing various ties to China were proposed during both House and Senate consideration of the budget resolution.

By Lizzie Devitt, posted on 3/5/21

Health Inequalities and Racial Injustice During COVID-19

On February 26th, Duke in DC hosted the event “Health Inequalities & Racial Injustice During COVID-19,“ as part of its Beyond Talking Points series. The conversation covered issues related to existing structural inequities in the United States and how they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health crises. The panelists also provided their recommendations for the Biden administration and Congress on how to address many of these structural, embedded issues.

The panelists included Keisha Bentley-Edwards, assistant professor at the Duke University School of Medicine and director of the Health Equity Working Group at the Duke Samuel W. DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, Tiffany Day, Systems Change and Policy Analyst at the Aspen Institute and Anna Gassman-Pines, associate professor at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and faculty affiliate at the Center for Child and Family Policy. The discussion was moderated by Teresa Wiltz, senior editor on Washington and politics at POLITICO.

How the CARES Act Supported Families During COVID-19:

Anna Gassman-Pines

“We have evidence that the stimulus and other supports from the CARES Act that were made available to families in the spring and summer in 2020 really worked. So, we know that any additional stimulus for families that are still struggling is going to immediately stabilize family income and promote wellbeing.”

On the Structural Inequities Involved in the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout:

Keisha Bentley-Edwards

With the exception of nursing homes, the vaccine has been prioritized for people who are exposed to communities of risk, rather than the people and communities who are actually at risk. We know that Black and Latinx communities are overburdened, but they are not getting the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is real, but it isn’t the only reason (why certain people aren’t receiving the vaccine).”

The Importance of Paid Family Leave and Other Government-Funded Programs:

Anna Gassman-Pines

“What has happened in the absence of a (paid family leave) federal program is that states have stepped forward to fill the void for their communities. State policymakers have realized that this is the type of policy that can build our workforce, can be implemented in ways that promote equity… a federal policy would provide that for everyone.”

“We have made accessing unemployment insurance difficult as an explicit policy choice. In practice, folks that are facing the most barriers and have the most difficulty are actually the ones who aren’t able to get it. In our own data… Black workers were more likely to get through the process, but for whatever reason had a delay in getting their benefits. That kind of delay means families are struggling with the basics like food and rent.”

Keisha Bentley-Edwards

“For those who argue that you can’t just throw money at problems, sometimes your problem is money. These moratoriums, because they aren’t “relief”, people will have to pay back their electricity and rent at some point, so we actually have to put money in people’s pockets. Throwing money at the problems will solve them.”

Tiffany Day

“Systems change cannot happen in a vacuum. It’s going to be important to think about if we increase the minimum wage, how it’s going to impact the benefits access for families. If we don’t correct and reconcile on the benefits and eligibility side, they will not be able to access these programs.

What the Biden Administration Should Do to Address Inequities in Health Coverage Right Now:

Keisha Bentley-Edwards

“I don’t believe that health insurance should be tied to employment, especially when we know that for low and even mid-wage jobs… We also need to make sure that we actually hold accountable and take into account our longstanding health disparities. Morbidity is something that we need to account for so that we can know where the holes and the gaps are in the system. These aren’t genetic issues; they are social issues.”

Tiffany Day

“The conversation happening at the national level is shifting from social determinants of health to structural determinants of health, because it truly is the infrastructure and structural racism that has been in place that has really prevented families from accessing adequate health care, adequate schools and food.”

On Mental Health & Inequities Related to Telehealth and Access to Care:

Anna Gassman-Pines

“An under-appreciated aspect of the pandemic is the ongoing mental health crisis, especially for parents… In our sample, half of the parents are screening positive, meaning that they are experiencing depression or anxiety, or both. It starts with acknowledging that investing in mental health is just as important as investing in physical health.”

Keisha Bentley-Edwards

“The telehealth aspect was seen as impossible for both mental health and physical health. However, there were physical health waivers put in place to allow doctors to work across state lines, that have not been put in place for mental health. You should be able to have access to this care that you need, quickly.”

Tiffany Day

“The digital divide that exists in the U.S. is another inequity. We have to have access to computers and networks. As we move forward, it will be important for those investments in infrastructure be put in place at the federal level.”

The Importance of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) for Educating the Country Around Health Disparities Affecting Black and Brown Communities Outside of COVID-19:

Keisha Bentley-Edwards

“I think it is key and with a caveat – it has to be done with myth busting. Especially around maternal and mental health. A big part of this is disaggregating the data, not just looking at comparing people by race, but also looking within race and learning from success. We have to be forthright about what we’ve been taught in the past and what isn’t accurate.”

You can also read Anna Gassman-Pines’ evidence brief, “COVID-19 Job and Income Loss Jeopardize Child Well-Being: Income Support Policies Can Help,” for more information and resources related to this conversation.

Rebuilding National Security and Improving Civ-Mil Relations

A panel of national security experts discussed the policy landscape in the Biden administration and new Congress on February 19th. This conversation, part of Duke in DC’s Beyond Talking Points series, covered issues related to cybersecurity, international and private partnerships, and how our nation can rebuild and strengthen many of these priorities.

The panelists included former U.S. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and current Rubenstein Fellow Susan “Sue” Gordan; Duke Professor and Director of the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS), Peter Feaver; and Managing Director of the Cybersecurity Group at the Aspen Institute, David Forscey. The discussion was moderated by Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). 

On cybersecurity:

David Forscey:

“The government and private sector, including our international partners, frequently cooperate, but there is also a lot of tension there. Private industry has always been essential for national security, but increasingly, the private sector is the actual medium in which cybersecurity takes place. Cyber space is not managed by the government at all. Government is operating in private territory.”

“What we need to do is move past the information sharing conversations to actual joint operations. We need people working shoulder-to-shoulder, and we need folks at national security agencies to become friends with their counterparts at leading companies, and that is something Congress should be focusing on.”

Sue Gordon

“Private sector and the private citizens are the decision-makers when it comes to national security. What those companies do affects what we do. We need companies to understand and feel the weight of their responsibilities. The government needs to think of itself as a supporting command.”

On U.S. vulnerabilities and how we can rebuild:

Sue Gordon

“The military needs a foundational, fundamental change in how it does warfighting and the intelligence community needs to get on its horse and collect the information it needs for today’s national security challenges. Secondly, we do not have the international coalitions and partnerships that we are going to need…this cannot be America first led, these problems are global.

“We still have too much U.S. hubris. This is a world of pesky sovereignty where every nation has their own demands, we have got to go after these things by recognizing our values are what unites us, but the implementation needs to be locally trusted.”

David Forscey

“There aren’t enough [champions on Capitol Hill], at least when it comes to cybersecurity. However, there are so many opportunities and issues members can engage on, almost all of which are bipartisan.”

“Known unknowns are our greatest vulnerabilities. It is crazy how little data we have on a lot of our digital vulnerabilities. For instance, we don’t have data to show that election offices are affected hit at a higher rate than hospitals – nobody knows – if we don’t have evidence, we can’t make evidence-based policy.”

On civil-military relations:

Peter Feaver

“All of these problems we’ve been talking about are embedded within a larger civil-military dynamic. We are at a time where a lot of our civ-mil relations are in need of repair. A lot of these problems will be harder to solve because the Biden administration is going to have to  recreate muscle memory for what healthy relationships look like. They inherit some of the challenges from the last administration, and they also are bringing some baggage from the Obama administration. If they don’t repair civ-mil dynamics, then a lot of these problems will become harder to solve.”

On balancing transparency with privacy:

David Forscey

“For public information, one of the best ways to improve security is to create market pressure for security. The best way to do that is to give customers the information they need to make purchasing decisions based on security. Right now, that is extremely difficult. All we need is something really basic that is based on basic security standards that allows customers to know whether they are buying secure or less secure products.”

On recommendations for the Biden administration:

Peter Feaver

“Secretary Austin is going to have to channel his inner civilian and become known as Secretary Austin, not General Austin… he needs to find out what Secretary Mattis did to empower the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and double it.”

You can tune in for the next two events of the series:  Health Inequalities & Racial Injustices During COVID-19 on 2/26 and Energy & Utilities on 3/5, at 10am ET.

A Wrap on 2020 in Washington, D.C.

As we round out 2020, our nation’s capital has not slowed down. Over the past few months, there has been an election accompanied by new activity from the White House and Congress, that directly impact Duke University. In this blog, our office has summarized the major events and developments from Washington, DC in the second half of the year that hold significance for the Duke community.

Election Recap

Presidential Election

Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election on November 7th, with the Electoral College formalizing the win on December 14th.  The transition process was delayed, but President-elect Biden has begun to roll out his picks for key cabinet and advisor positions. Two Duke faculty members, Robert Bonnie and Christopher Schroeder, were appointed as leads to the Biden-Harris Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice agency review teams, respectively.  Duke’s Office of Government Relations (OGR) is closely monitoring the Biden-Harris transition activities and noting any connections to Duke.

Changes in Leadership and Makeup for the 117th Congress

The 2020 election precipitated several new changes to the North Carolina delegation. Three new members to the delegation will be Democrats Deborah Ross (NC-2) and Kathy Manning (NC-6) and Republican Madison Cawthorn (NC-11). Additionally, following the protracted redistricting process in North Carolina, Duke’s main campus has moved back to the 4th Congressional District for the 117th Congress, which is represented by Representative David Price (D-NC).

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) was re-elected as he defeated his Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham. Control of the Senate still hangs in the balance and won’t be determined until after the January 5, 2021 runoff election in Georgia.

Four Duke alumni currently serving in Congress were re-elected and will return for the 117th Congress. In the House, Mo Brooks T’75 (R-AL), Scott Peters T’80 (D-CA) and Mike Levin L’05 (D-CA) were all re-elected. Senator Shelley Moore Capito T’75 (R-WV) also won another term, where she serves alongside Sen. Rand Paul M’88 (R-KY).  After having lost the primary election earlier this year, Rep. Dan Lipinski M’98 (D-IL) will not be serving in the next Congress. Rep. Bradley Byrne T’77 (R-AL) gave up his seat in the House earlier this year to run for Senate, which he lost in the primary. 

Moving into the 117th Congress, there will also be several Congressional committee leadership changes. Notably, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey (D-NY), both a Duke parent and grandparent, is retiring and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will take the gavel in her place. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) were elected as the new ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce and House Armed Services Committees, respectively.

Meanwhile, the House Education and Labor and House Science, Space and Technology Committees will maintain the same leadership with Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA) and ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-AL), all re-elected respectively. Reps. Jerold Nadler (D-NY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) will continue to serve as chairman and ranking member on the House Judiciary Committees.  In the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and will continue to serve as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the ranking member has yet to be determined. Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) will also continue to serve as chair for the Ways and Means Committee, with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) as ranking.

The House of Representatives has released their legislative calendar for the 2021 calendar year.

Legislative and Presidential Administration Activities

FY 2021 Budget and COVID-19 Relief

On the evening of December 21st, 2020, Congress passed the $1.4 trillion FY 21 omnibus spending measure along with a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. This omnibus bill will fund the federal government through September 30, 2021 and includes the following funding recommendations for programs of interest to the Duke community. Below is a chart highlighting the legislation’s topline allocations for federal agencies that are relevant to Duke:

The COVID-19 Response and Relief legislation includes $20.2 billion additional funds for the Department of Education’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) for public and private, nonprofit institutions based on headcount and full-time student enrollment.

In addition to the FY21 and COVID-19 relief packages, Congress also tacked on several provisions related to higher education and tax. The legislation includes language to simplify Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), increase the maximum Pell Grant to $6,495 and reinstates Pell eligibility for incarcerated students. Related to employer and tax benefits, there is also language to expand and extend charitable giving deductions and the employee-retention tax credit for private employers through June 30th, 2021. 

Immigration policy

This year, accompanied by the coronavirus pandemic, included several pieces of legislation and executive action on immigration policy that had significant impact on universities.

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) both proposed changes to H-1B visa rules. The DHS interim final rule would restrict H-1B qualifications and the DOL interim final rule would dramatically raise wage requirements for employees who have H-1B visas. At the beginning of December, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decided that both the DHS and DOL rules should be rendered invalid nationwide. On December 14th, another federal judge ruled against the DOL proposed regulation. Duke has continued voice its opposition to both rules on the basis that they would be unnecessarily harmful to international students and faculty as well as our U.S. universities.

The Supreme Court voted to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this year and on December 4th, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to fully restore DACA. The ruling effectively reestablishes the program and places a mandate on the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) begin accepting new applicants.

Science & Security and Foreign Influence

Congressional actions

After months of negotiations, the House and Senate released the conference agreement for the FY 21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition to setting funding recommendations for Department of Defense programs, including its Science and Technology programs, it also includes a handful of policy measures aimed at addressing science and security and foreign influence issues.

Both the House and Senate bills contained a mix of positive proposals and items of concern. The final conference package contained mostly good news for the higher education and research community. Most notably, the conference agreement contained language that would harmonize funding disclosure requirements, including domestic and foreign sources, among all federal agencies. The conference agreement also contains a provision that will create a new academic liaison position at DOD with the responsibility to work with academia on initiatives to protect DOD-sponsored research from undue foreign threats. Although several proposals to create programs to help attract and retain foreign talent at DOD did not make it into the conference report, the final agreement requests a National Academies comparative analysis of efforts by China and the US to recruit and retain foreign researchers and recommendations for the US – DOD and other federal agencies – to recruit and retain researchers and scientists relative to China. Finally, though not related to foreign influence, the final NDAA bill does contain the National AI Initiative.

The conference agreement passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, well beyond the votes needed to overturn President Trump’s threatened veto.

Administration/agency actions

Last month, the Department of Education published a Notice of Interpretation (NOI) on “the department’s enforcement authority for failure to adequately report under Section 117.” As a reminder, Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to report any foreign gift and contract they receive that is valued over $250,000. In the NOI, which is currently in effect, the Department of Education implies it has authority to tie Section 117 compliance failures to an institution’s eligibility to participate in Title IV student aid programs. The higher education associations submitted comments in response stating the interpretation is not consistent with the HEA and requests a formal rulemaking process.

Other activities at Duke and Duke in DC

Moving into 2021, Duke OGR plans to continue its efforts to support the university and students’ policy interests into next Congress and the Biden-Harris administration. Duke in DC will hold a series of programs, including its original Beyond Talking Points event series beginning in February. Duke in DC also held an event on December 10th entitled “Housing is Where the Health is,” with several faculty experts about their research on environmental justice.

Posted 12/22/20

Housing is Where the Health Is

By Lizzie Devitt

Housing can be linked to a wide variety of systemic inequalities, including health outcomes. Like many issues, these consequences and inequalities have been exacerbated during COVID-19, as people are spending more time in their homes than ever before.

On December 10th, Duke in DC hosted a virtual congressional briefing with two Duke professors, Kay Jowers and Christopher Timmins, along with their colleague, and Duke alum, Lala Ma from the University of Kentucky to discuss the interconnectedness of one’s home and other life outcomes.

The briefing covered the confluence of compounding factors including housing precarity (housing affordability, housing quality, and other conditions related to housing), racial injustice, COVID-19 and environmental injustice that can effect an individual or family’s overall wellbeing. Professor Jowers noted, “This year we also saw huge attention to racial injustice and environmental justice movements… we know that all of these underlying issues also play a role in the pandemic.”

While research on housing discrimination over the last several decades indicates that rates of discrimination appear, on the surface, to be decreasing overtime, Timmins’ research explains that this is not necessarily true. “We examined the characteristics of the houses people are being offered, not just the number,” said Timmins, “Relative to an average neighborhood the African American tester was offered a home with 23.8 more assaults in the neighborhood compared to the white tester.”

His research reports that Black homebuyers are also more likely to be offered a home closer to a superfund site and have higher levels of exposure to air toxins, and this probability is even higher for single Black mothers.

Timmins also cited his research, done in collaboration with Peter Christensen at the University of Illinois, regarding discrimination in rental markets.  “In all the cities we looked at, when a white renter received a response for an apartment availability, the minority identity (either Black or Latinx) received a response 68% of the time.”

Timmnis thanked the National Science Foundation (NSF) for supporting research on housing markets and also stated, “the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the source of a lot of our data… which we use for measuring discrimination in housing and real estate markets.”

Housing discrimination, which contributes to a variety of differences in housing quality, also has direct implications for natural disaster resiliency. Low-income housing is often hit hardest by severe weather storms and may lack the resources to properly rebuild. Lala Ma spoke directly on these issues by citing additional research on floods and climate change.

“Flood exposure may differ by socioeconomic status and if so, policies to address flood risk will have a heterogeneous impact,” explained Ma “policies that are aimed to mitigate some of these losses are going to be really important for strategies to adapt to climate change.”

Certain policies enacted at the federal, state and local levels during COVID-19 have effectively addressed some of the socioeconomic issues mentioned above. Jowers specifically spoke about the federal utilities and rent moratoria and their effectiveness in helping families.

“Using these kinds of measures,” Jowers explained can, “allow people to come back to equilibrium when there’s been a major disruption in their lives.”

Posted 12/21/20

How Duke Supports Its Student Veteran Community

by Lizzie Devitt

As our nation commemorates Veterans Day this month, we want to give special recognition to Duke’s military-affiliated students and alumni.

Over the years, Duke’s student veteran community has continued to grow, becoming one of the fastest-growing student population on campus and prompting Student Affairs to create an office specifically for them. The Duke Student Affairs Office of Veterans works collaboratively with students, faculty and staff to provide resources, support and community to current and former student veterans.

Duke’s military-affiliated community now totals 444, which includes 259 veterans, and the remaining members are comprised of those on active duty, guard, reserves, as well as part-time duty. Vice Dean of Students Clay Adams, among other responsibilities, directs all student veteran initiatives.

“The office is still relatively new and so there has been a constant effort to focus on “rightsizing” our support of the community,” Adams explained. They have also aimed to provide better support “through resource allocation from a standing budget, to staffing, and space allocation.”

The student veteran community at Duke has representation in nearly all schools on campus, from the Divinity School to the Pratt School of Engineering and everything else in between. Postgraduate opportunities for members of the community are equally as wide-ranging. “You name it they’ve done it,” said Adams, “From business, to public service, continued leadership within the Department of Defense, faculty members, and more.”

Adapting to life and school is not without its difficulties for the military-affiliated community. “The transition-related adjustments associated with leaving a highly structured environment to higher education, which has a very distinct and different approach,” can be difficult for student veterans and the military-affiliated community as a whole.

In the midst of such new challenges, having a community of people for support and advice is critical. From admission to post-grad, Duke’s military-affiliated community maintains close-knit relationships. Three years ago, the Office of Student Veterans also partnered with the Duke Alumni Association to build a military-affiliated alumni network.

As an extension of the Duke Student Veterans and the Office of Student Veterans, the Duke Military Alumni Network creates community for military affiliated Duke alumni. As such, the Duke Military Alumni Network primarily serves to connect military affiliated Duke alumni and their families with peers around the globe to offer support, resources, and connection – no matter where our alumni are.

Adams also said that Duke’s “cross-institutional approach to supporting our graduate and professional school students, which serve as home to 98% of student military-affiliated community,” is one of several factors that sets Duke apart and helps foster a strong community for veterans. “Building a centralized support network and community to serve students collectively allows us to streamline and efficiently tailor our efforts.”

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