Less than a year after being nominated and nine months after being confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Diane Auer Jones is leaving the Bush administration.
A department spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday evening that Jones had told her senior staff earlier in the day that she was leaving, but said she could not provide further details until Thursday. Jones could not be reached for comment.
According to sources within the department, Jones's announcement that she was resigning drew gasps of surprise from her staff. While it is not uncommon for executive branch officials to leave in the waning months of a presidential administration, that is far less true for officials who, like Jones, came into their positions as part of a second or third wave.
Jones formally became assistant secretary for postsecondary education in August 2007, after her predecessor, Sally L. Stroup, returned to the House of Representatives as a key higher education aide. Jones came to her position after having held a remarkably diverse array of jobs within multiple sectors of higher education and in the research and postsecondary policy world. That included stints at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation's undergraduate education division, the House of Representatives science committee, three years as a lobbyist for Princeton University, and early work as a laboratory manager and professor at the Community College of Baltimore County.
Jones came to the Education Department at a time of significant tension between the department's top officials and many college leaders over the department's aggressive efforts to implement the recommendations of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Many college officials viewed her as bringing an informed knowledge of higher education to the position and welcomed her involvement. But she seemed at times not to be fully comfortable with the positions of her superiors on some higher education issues, such as the department's stance on regulating accreditation, where she often appeared to discourage an aggressive government role.
College leaders said they were sorry to see her go.
"Diane's background -- a senior Congressional staffer, a faculty member and a campus administrator -- made her an ideal choice to be in charge of postsecondary education at the Department of Education," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public relations at the American Council on Education. "Perhaps even more important, she had a deep commitment to making sure that the Department's higher education programs worked smoothly. We didn't always agree on policy matters, but she wanted to make government work and that provides a real strong basis for getting things done.
He added: "It is not surprising that she is leaving -- this is the time when political appointees start thinking in terms of the futures. Personally, I hoped she would have been there to turn out the lights when the Bush administration leaves office next January."