September 4, 2020
As the new academic year begins, we extend a warm greeting and deepest appreciation for your ongoing work on behalf of your students, institutions, and theatre in higher education.
During these last twenty-five weeks, we have had the opportunity to speak with many of you directly. There is no question that the work of theatre administrators continues to be exemplified by long-standing and abiding characteristics such as diligence – your willingness to study and work through each problem considering all options and exhausting all possibilities; patience – your willingness to seek the information necessary to make decisions which will protect the lives and livelihoods of those you serve; fortitude – your willingness to revisit an issue once thought laid to rest; and your good spirit – your ability to remain positive, supportive, and kind in action, deed, and word when much around you is unsure, unknown, and unpredictable. You make a difference every single day. Thank you for all that you are accomplishing during these times of ongoing challenge.
We offer the following information for your review and consideration. It is our hope that this information will assist you to navigate some of the challenges faced at this time; remain abreast of events, activities, and ongoing conversations that may affect your work; and continue to attend to the responsibilities of accredited institutional membership.
1. Leadership Resources/Ongoing Issues
On August 11, 2020, NAST released a web-based resource entitled, Leadership: Navigating Difficult Situations and Conditions (https://nast.arts-accredit.org/leadership/). This site is divided into six sections (Facts, Principles, Considerations: Important Reminders; Strategic Thinking – An Intellectual Endeavor: Developing and Abiding Approach; Informed Decision-Making: The Importance of Distillation and Synthesis; Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs); The Long View: The Place of Reasonableness; and Concluding Thoughts: Support and Appreciation). We hope you will visit this resource, as it offers a wealth of information pertinent to the challenges faced by institutions at this time.
Please note that NAST has held and plans to hold professional development sessions offered via virtual means. Topic-focused sessions explore issues such as bioaerosol emissions in the performing arts, mitigating inherent risk, strategic thinking, and the newly released federal rule addressing nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance and its implications. In addition, NAST staff will provide a number of accreditation-focused sessions including those addressing: the procedures required of institutions scheduled to conduct comprehensive accreditation reviews; the work of NAST evaluators; submission of the HEADS Data Survey, and statistical data and its use in institutional planning and decision-making processes; and current federal issues. Information regarding these sessions is found within the second section of the web resource entitled, Informed Decision-Making: The Importance of Distillation and Synthesis.
2. Proposed Revisions to the NAST Handbook
NAST expects to launch a draft of proposed revisions to the NAST Handbook 2020-21 for member review and comment in late January. Official notices regarding the proposed revisions will be disseminated during the spring of 2021. Of particular note in these proposed revisions will be the suggested changes being made to the NAST Code of Ethics. As background, NAST offers for your review the information below. A detailed review of the Final Judgment issued by the Department of Justice in April of 2020 is recommended.
NAST has been following since 2017 a possible restraint of trade concern held by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it may pertain to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) specifically with regard to changes made by NACAC to its Code of Ethics and Professional Practices in 2017. Although NACAC amended its Code provisions in September of 2019, the concern resulted in a complaint filed by DOJ against NACAC in December of 2019 (see Federal Register dated January 10, 2020). Comprehensive information regarding the DOJ proceedings, which have now come to a close, may be found here. The DOJ Final Judgment dated April 17, 2020 may be found here. Given the provisions of the DOJ Final Judgment, NAST will be offering in the form of Proposed Revisions to the NAST Handbook 2020-21, modifications to specific provisions of the current NAST Code of Ethics. A vote of the membership is expected to be taken in March of 2021.
The text of the NAST Code of Ethics remains unchanged at this time and until an affirmative vote is taken to approve the changes. However, when applying the provisions of the NAST Code of Ethics, it is suggested that institutions remain mindful of and attentive to the provisions of the DOJ Final Judgment. Although certain specific activities are now prohibited as outlined in the DOJ Final Judgment, it is important to remember that 1) a hallmark of the work of NAST accredited institutional members is the continuing and unwavering regard held for ethical practices that are fair, applied equitably, and continue to serve and protect both institutions and students, and the field, and 2) such practices may be freely exercised absent the presence of articulated requirements. The Code of Ethics is based upon long-standing NAST principles, which remain today. Approaches and initiatives which 1) uphold the spirit of the NAST Code of Ethics and the principles upon which it rests firmly, and 2) attend to the letter of the DOJ Final Judgment should be considered as appropriate and can be implemented consistent with the provisions of each.
Should questions arise regarding the DOJ action or the NAST Code of Ethics, please contact the Executive Director directly.
3. Federal Issues Affecting Higher Education
Activity regarding reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) began in late 2017. This Act was last reauthorized in August 2008 and expired December 31, 2013. Issues of concern include initiatives pertaining to gainful employment, state authorization and distance learning, teacher preparation, and misrepresentation. Joining this list are issues such as access, cost and completion, new pathways for collegiate study, student achievement, institutional responsibility, borrower defense to repayment, and institutional obligations under Title IX. Following approval in the House and Senate, on December 19, 2019, the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act (H.R.5363), a bill reauthorizing portions of the HEA, was signed into public law. In addition to the permanent authorization of funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI), the bill stipulates requirements for the disclosure of personal tax-return information deemed necessary to carry out the provisions of the HEA. With the impending retirement of Lamar Alexander and upcoming elections, further action on higher education legislation is not anticipated in the near term.
NAST encourages administrators to study and stay apprised of activity related to this Act and in particular the following current federal issues:
- Regulatory Activity related to the HEA
In July and August 2019, following delays of the implementation of recently approved rules related to borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment, the Department of Education announced two new final rules. In July 2019, the Department of Education announced new gainful employment regulations, thus rescinding prior gainful employment regulations entirely. Although the previous gainful employment regulations remained in effect until July 1, 2020, the Department of Education offered to institutions the ability to implement the new regulations immediately. In August 2019, the Department of Education announced final regulations regarding borrower defense to repayment applicable to all federal student loans made on or after July 1, 2020, replacing the 2016 borrower defense to repayment rules. The new rule contains but is not limited to a federal standard for facilitating the collection and review of evidence, new evidence standards, a new limitations period of three years, and a definition of “misrepresentation.”
On November 1, 2019, the Department of Education released final regulations applicable to institutions that participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs, governing the recognition of accrediting agencies, certain student assistance general provisions, and institutional eligibility as they pertain to the HEA. These new regulations are far-reaching and include the modification of requirements regarding accreditor-established timelines for institutions and programs to come into compliance with accreditor standards; removal of the geographic area of accrediting activities from the definition of scope of Secretary recognition for regional accrediting bodies; and changes to the term “substantive change” and the resultant submission requirements for accreditor review.
- Other Federal Activity
On September 27, 2019, the Department of Labor published final regulations regarding exemptions from minimum wage and overtime pay requirements as related to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Following various stops and starts from previous rule publications, this new rule, effective July 1, 2020, increases the salary level for those eligible for overtime pay from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $684 per week ($35,568 per year). While the Department of Labor previously noted that professors, instructors, and adjunct professors would be exempt from salary requirements, institutions may wish to study the regulations as they may affect support staff and administrators.
On May 19, 2020 the Department of Education published in the Federal Register the Final Rule entitled, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.” As the regulations span over 2,000 pages, the Department of Education simultaneously published a summary of major provisions of the Final Rule. The Final Rule, effective August 14, 2020, includes significant provisions such as: an amendment of the definition of sexual harassment for Title IX purposes; the role of the Title IX coordinator; mandatory response and reporting obligations; grievance processes and procedures, including processes and requirements related to investigations and hearings; and each institution’s confirmation of the standard of evidence now in place as it relates to Title IX investigations. It is noted that the implementation of the rule will affect various daily practices at institutions of higher education. 4. Current Notices
NAST maintains on its website a Current Notices page which offers current and timely notices, items of interest to theatre executives, and other NAST information as appropriate. Information provided includes notices regarding dues and fees, reports of the Commission on Accreditation, drafts of Handbook revisions, and announcements, among many other items.
We remind you to check the Current Notices section of the NAST website often, and ask that you remain up to date with regard to Association business and accreditation responsibilities.
At any time, as the year progresses, please do not hesitate to contact the staff of the NAST National Office. A directory of staff members, including information regarding each individual’s responsibilities, may be found here. Prior to contacting staff, please take a moment to review the online Summary of Staff Responsibilities (listed below the Staff Directory), which will help guide you to the appropriate staff member. Please feel free to call or email whenever questions arise or information is needed, or if there are issues that you would like to discuss. NAST staff stands ready and is pleased to assist you with your inquiry.
We offer best wishes to you, your colleagues, and your students as you begin the 2020-2021 academic year. We offer deepest appreciation to you for your many and endless contributions. We look forward to continuing our work together.