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Falwell says Trump administration has tapped him to lead a higher-ed panel

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. on the campus of the university in Lynchburg, VA. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

The Trump administration has asked Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead a panel on reform of higher education regulations, the leader of the evangelical Christian school said Tuesday.

“In the Department of Education, there’s too much intrusion into the independent accreditation,” Falwell told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “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.”

Falwell’s latest connection with the Trump team was first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Liberty president was an early endorser of Trump during the Republican primaries in 2016 and a steadfast supporter during the general election, including when Trump faced withering criticism over his crude remarks about women and sex on a 2005 videotape that surfaced in October. Some within the Liberty community were critical of Falwell’s support of Trump, saying at the time that his endorsement risked linking the school too closely to a divisive politician.

After the election, Falwell said that he had discussions with Trump about the job of education secretary. The nomination ultimately went to Betsy DeVos, a billionaire from Michigan who supports charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers to help pay for private school.

Falwell, son of the late television preacher the Rev. Jerry Falwell, has overseen major growth at Liberty during the past decade. The school now has more than 80,000 students, the majority of them enrolled in online courses. He also has drawn attention for urging students and faculty to obtain permits to carry concealed guns, a position that he says will make the campus a safer place.

For many at Liberty University, God and guns go hand in hand

There is significant support among college and university presidents for deregulation, in general. Many chafed at the Obama administration’s efforts to increase federal oversight of higher education in various matters, ranging from how schools respond to sexual violence reports to how they prepare graduates for gainful employment with minimal debt burdens. However, some consumer advocates say that the heightened federal scrutiny has benefited students, providing them with more assurance that their investment in higher education will pay off. Others point out that the government must be assured that billions of dollars a year in federal education funding is not misspent.

The chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nicholas Zeppos, co-chaired a task force that concluded in 2015 that federal education regulations are “unnecessarily voluminous” and that compliance is “inordinately costly.” That report drew a degree of bipartisan support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But it did not appear to have much influence with the Obama administration.

Are colleges over-regulated?

Now, with Trump in the White House, a new deregulation push seems about to start.

“We think many regulations published in the last decade need to be rolled back,” Falwell said. “I’ve got notebooks full of material from professors, from heads of accrediting bodies, from people in the financial aid department who have seen problems first-hand.” Falwell said he wants to support DeVos, assuming she will soon be confirmed by the Senate. He said the task force he will lead will be a presidential task force. Further details on when it would be convened, who would participate and exactly how the task force would work were unavailable.