Federal Involvement in the Universities: A Reply to James Glassman

(The author is a student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.)

JAMES Glassman's recent articles have served a useful purpose in raising the issue of the University's relationships with the Federal government. Essentially he argues that government-financed activities have damaged the University's internal structure and forced the University into a dependency relationship which renders it incapable of criticizing the government.

It is beyond question that government research has altered the University's structure and that the University should preserve its freedom to criticize society and government. Unfortunately Mr. Glassman's case for his conclusion (May 13) that, "The federal government will be driven out of the University. And that cannot be bad" is sketchy and his solution seems to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It will be argued here:

1. That most of the activities of the government in higher education are consonant with the objectives of the University and should be continued.

2. That if some specfiic federal activities are found inappropriate to the University they should be removed or reduced on a selective basis.


3. That the government has not used the weapon of on-campus funding to stifle the University's right of dissent.

4. That until such time as freedom of dissent is impaired the University should not take steps to sever financial ties with the government.

5. That the financial implications of a reduction in Federal funding at Harvard would not be as catastrophic as Mr. Glassman supposes.

Although I would prefer that this letter simply be taken at face value, my previous associations are not irrelevant and should be made explicit. I am currently enrolled at Harvard in the Kennedy School of Government and have been employed by the Federal Bureau of the Budget for five years.

For two years at the Bureau I reviewed the non-weapons scientific research activities of the Atomic Energy Commission (including the Cambridge Electron Accelerator). For the next two years I reviewed Federal aid to education. The views expressed herein are strictly my own and are in no way to be construed as representing the views of the Federal government generally or the Budget Bureau specifically.

EXCEPT for the insured loan program and veterans benefits (and these are, to be sure, major exceptions) the undergraduate student aid programs redistribute income progressively. For example, the education opportunity grant program channels two thirds of its funds to students whose parents are in the lowest income quartiles. Less than 2 per cent are channeled to the top income quartile. There is no doubt that the redistributional characteristics of undergraduate student aid could be improved, but large numbers of low-income students depend on this support for their education. It is not clear what purpose would be served by driving these funds out of the University.

It has been argued that aiding low-income students should be viewed as an attempt by "the Establishment" to co-opt the lower classes. Many low-income students, particularly whites, accept their educational opportunities for a higher rung on the status ladder with gratitude and docility.

That the lowest classes are being "bought" into the system is doubtful. Recent actions by blacks and Puerto Ricans at CCNY and by blacks elsewhere cast doubt on that assertion. Observe that the Afro demand was the only one that made a direct inroad on the power of Harvard's Faculty. Did Wellesley College in accepting 104 blacks for next year's freshman class of 500 expect a placid year of co-opting blacks and teaching them proper manners?

In any event it is hard to imagine how low-income people would be better off without an opportunity for higher education. Even from a radical standpoint the possibilities of radicalizing the lower classes seem greater inside the University than outside. I expect that conservative Congressmen see increased scholarships for low income students--at least blacks--as more of a threat to the establishment than an opportunity to co-opt.

Another possible reason for objecting to Federal student aid is that parts of it are subject to the so-called anti-riot clauses, which stipulate that funds shall be denied to students who use unlawful tactics. I think these stipulations are inappropriate. Nevertheless it is important to note that the law does not restrict freedom of thought, dissent or speech. Moreover, discretion to deny the funds has been left with the University. So far as I know, no such denials have been made.