WASHINGTON, D.C.— Yesterday, Democracy Forward demanded that Diane Auer Jones, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, immediately recuse herself from further involvement in the Department of Education’s review of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) due to her extensive conflicts of interest. In December 2016, the Department ceased recognizing ACICS as an accrediting agency in light of its pervasive non-compliance with federal recognition criteria. ACICS’s petition for re-recognition is now pending before the Department.
Prior to joining the Trump Administration, Jones was a senior executive at the for-profit college group Career Education Corporation (CEC), where she served as CEC’s primary representative to accreditation agencies, including ACICS. While Jones worked there, ACICS accredited nearly all of CEC’s approximately 80 campuses. During the same time, there were more than twenty state and federal investigations launched into CEC’s recruiting and financial aid practices, resulting in CEC paying out several multi-million dollar settlements.
Despite ACICS’s scandal-plagued record, which included failing to adequately oversee Corinthian Colleges, Jones criticized the Department of Education in 2014 for “requiring accreditors to jump through an ever-changing and ever-expanding set of hoops in order to gain or maintain the Department’s recognition.”
“Diane Jones’ many connections to ACICS and her past statements criticising the accreditation process make clear that she cannot conduct the recognition process with the fairness and objectivity required by law, and she ought to recuse herself from that process,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy.
Under federal law, an official must be removed from a matter if “a disinterested observer may conclude that [she] has in some measure adjudged the facts as well as the law” of a decision “in advance of hearing it.” Administrative decisions “must be attended, not only with every element of fairness but with the very appearance of complete fairness.” Jones’s involvement falls far short of that standard.
Democracy Forward’s letter follows revelations that other officials in the Department of Education have been similarly lax with regard to their financial disclosures. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was asked by Congressman Raj Krishnamoorthi in May about her subordinates’ conflicts of interest, DeVos dodged the question.
The letter was submitted on July 2, 2018.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
December 7, 2018