Betsy DeVos’s Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Impartiality Issues

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As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.

Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

The Education Department says Mr. Eitel has conferred several times with its ethics officer to avoid conflicts. But it says he is not precluded from having a voice on general issues and regulations that affect the for-profit college sector.

Ethics experts said Mr. Eitel’s position, which has not been announced publicly, could nonetheless bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality, particularly given his position as a vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education Inc., an operator of for-profit colleges, during federal investigations into the company.

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