The White House and the Education Department announced late Tuesday that President Bush has nominated Diane Auer Jones, a seasoned Washington policy expert with significant campus experience, to be assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the department's primary higher education job.
Jones, nominated to fill a job that has been vacant since Sally Stroup left for the House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee in March 2006, has had a remarkably diverse array of jobs within multiple sectors of higher education and in the research and postsecondary policy world. She actually began work (unannounced) at the department last week as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, and before that had been deputy to the associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy since early 2006.
Before taking her post in the science office, Jones spent three years as a lobbyist for Princeton University. That job was preceded by a stint as acting staff director for the research subcommittee of the House Science Committee, and by service as a program officer in the National Science Foundation's undergraduate education division.
A molecular biologist with a bachelor's degree from Salisbury University and a master's from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (where she also completed doctoral coursework), Jones spent nearly most of the 1990s as a laboratory manager and professor at the Community College of Baltimore County, where she established the Biotechnology Institute and started several companies.
Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, characterized the nomination of Jones -- which requires Senate confirmation -- as a "terrific appointment." He described Jones as having a "very different background from anybody else who's ever had that sort of position," background that will "obviously give her a great deal of insight into academic issues."
"It's very important for the assistant secretary to be somebody who knows how government works," Hartle said. At the same time, he added, the "people who have not done very well" in the department's top postsecondary job are those who "didn't have much background in higher ed. Obviously Diane has that."
The big question, Hartle said, is how much influence Jones can have in the relatively short time she is likely to have in the job from the time she gets confirmed (after a background check, etc.) and until the Bush administration's time is up in less than 18 months.
"Taking over in the waning days of an administration" is a challenge, he said.