While several issues involving higher education will come up before the Massachusetts state legislature this fall, the chief concern for Harvard and other state universities involves what steps if any the state will take to compensate for federal cuts in student aid.
High on the agenda for Harvard and other schools is a bill that would alleviate the federal cutbacks by adding $20 million and 7,000 students to current assistance programs.
"We rate [this bill] as our number-one priority," said James B. King, assistant vice president for government and community affairs. The University will be working as part of a higher education coalition supporting the bill, he said.
The student aid bill was first introduced in the Senate last May, and many influential legislators and university leaders--including President Bok--spoke out in support. But after sailing through the upper house, the bill stalled in the House Ways and Means committee, where it currently sits.
The proposal was apparently killed because of opposition to the finance provisions--a four cent increase in the state's already high cigarette tax. James True of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts said yesterday that an amendment will now be proposed calling for funding to come out of current cigarette tax revenues. He predicted that the change would lead to swift passage.
A second bill before the legislature that could benefit Harvard would provide the preliminary steps for a statewide telecommunications network. The system would allow instant, two-way communication between Massachusetts universities. For example, a professor at UMass-Amherst could give a guest lecture at Harvard without leaving his campus, and students would be able to ask questions from their Cambridge classroom.
An aide to Sen. John W. Olver, sponsor of the bill, said yesterday that the legislation--which has already passed the Senate--calls for a study to be completed in six months to determine what kind of technology should be used.
A third bill that King says would adversely affect the University--the "animal pound bill"--is very close to passing this session. The legislation, which would effectively deny medical researchers the use of animals in pounds, has passed both houses and needs only one more procedural vote.
King said the University objects to the bill because of the great increased cost it holds for science laboratories. He estimated Harvard's bill alone will rise by $1 million a year.
By far the hottest issue on Beacon Hill right now involves the nuclear freeze. While the Senate has approved placing a nuclear freeze referendum on the ballot in November--similar to one which passed last week in Wisconsin--the House has had some reservations, and key leaders are blocking its passage.
More than 200 freeze supporters yesterday rallied outside the Statehouse, demanding action before the end of the week.