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.

(It seems strange that Harvard in accepting these funds stated that the anti-riot provision, which essentially imposes a financial punishment on the indigent for using improper tactics, is "wholly inconsistent with the nature, purposes and responsibilities of the University," and then turned around and used a financial punishment for the improper tactics of the Paine Hall demonstrators. If a punishment is meant to be financial, why not impose fines on all violators, perhaps proportional to wealth? Why impose a financial punishment only on the indigent by removing their scholarships? If the purpose was to force the indigent violators out of the University, why not candidly suspend rich and poor alike?)

Support of on-campus research accounts for 30 per cent of Federal aid to higher education, not 67 per cent as reported by Mr. Glassman. (See Table I) The sources of research funds by agency are shown in Table IV.

The vast majority of this research is apolitical, dealing with basic scientific research or applications to medicine. The choices of projects are also apolitical, at least in science.

Projects there are selected by review boards composed of the applicant's scientific peers, and the entire process is largely designed and run by the academic community. This is not to say that criteria for project selection are impeccable. There certainly are cases in which bad choices have been made. But to the best of my knowledge research funds have not been terminated or refused by the government on the grounds of the researcher's political views. If I am ignorant of counterexamples I wish to be disabused.

If some particular research project is inappropriate for a university it should be terminated selectively, leaving the majority of research, which contributes to the university's objectives.

Contrary to Mr. Glassman's assertion that general aid to education is incompatible with America's ideology, $1.5 billion of Federal aid to education is for institutional support. The mechanisms for disbursing these funds are categorical grants for more or less specific pulrposes, but in most cases the effect is to provide general aid for any purpose the university desires. The effect is essentially to provide aid (through higher quality or lower tuition) to those enrolled in college, who tend to be relatively affluent. My personal feeling is that most of these funds would be better allocated to Federal scholarship and loan programs for the disadvantaged.

I AM NOT personally aware of any case in which the government has taken reprisals aganist a university for the activities of its students or faculty. General Hershey and local draft boards have their ways of dealing with dissent, but removing Federal support for universities will not change that situation at all. More important, I am not aware that Yale has suffered for the actions of William Sloan Coffin, or Harvard or M.I.T. for the anti-ABM views of Abram Chayes or Jerome Wiesner. Neither am I aware that any university suffered because its students and faculty were active in the Dump Johnson movement or anti-Vietnam war activities.

Nevertheless the university's freedom to criticize can be impaired by means more subtle than cutting off funds. If there is a pervasive fear that funds will be cut off for criticizing the government, and if the universities succumb to that fear, dissent will have been stifled without overt action. Mr. Glassman has not shown that such an atmosphere exists.

(Academic freedom is a strange beast. Students or faculty members could criticize any elected Federal official's policy, intellect, physiognomy or character without fear of reprisals. How many students would dare display such candor in seminars? How many faculty exercise their freedom on colleagues' or administrators' views?)

To say that federal research is not intrinsically bad is not to say that its presence in the university has not caused problems. The assertion that good education requires research contains a basic truth which has in some cases been overplayed in much the same way that the need for "national defense" has been used to justify a number of dubious practices. The net effect of this research on Harvard is something I am not qualified to judge. I wish only to say that selective reductions and adjustments in the amount and balance of research which might be suggested by a sober review would not trigger an unqualified financial catastrophe. To suggest that "Harvard is in deep financial trouble" is to harbor thefinancial instincts of a little old lady school teacher. Harvard is in a financial crisis only in the sense that like every human being it has less money than it would like.

Suppose, for example, the University were to decide that science plays too large a role in the university, that a major restructuring should be undertaken, and that all science departments (including research funds, faculty, research assistants and students) should be reduced by one third by 1974. What would happen? Presumably some faculty, choosing to place a high priority on research, would accept positions elsewhere, taking with them some graduate students. No undergraduates would have to leave. Since the reduction in faculty and students would be proportional to the reduction in research money, the financial gap to be filled by the university due to this restructuring would be only that portion of the "indirect coast" of research contracts not actually spent for indirect costs related to the research.

If Federal science research at Harvard is now $50 million and is reduced by $17 million (33 per cent) the "padded" indirect costs would be $10 million maximum, and more likely $4 million. Would that put Harvard in receivership? If Harvard's $1 billion endowment principal were applied to this gap, Harvard wouldn't go broke for 250 years. This obviously oversimplifies the finances involved, because of restrictions on some portions of the endowment, but the comparison places the problem in perspective. New additions to endowment from gifts have avaraged $25.5 million per year in recent years. If the university were to subject itself to the major restructuring postulated above it seems reasonable that portions of these gifts could be allocated to the "gap" produced. Of course there would be opportunity costs involved in alocating new gifts to this gap, but can these costs really be called a financial disaster? There is a difference between discomfort and bankruptcy.

There is no doubt that the readjustment hypothesized above would create serious hardships for some people, particularly scientists, and these should not be underemphasized. I expect the prospect of these dislocations and the squabbling over just who would be dislocated would be viewed as an impediment to restructuring more serious than the loss of Federal funds. Table I FEDERAL SUPPORT OF HIGHER EDUCATION Expenditures   (Millions of dollars)  percentage   1968  1969  1970  of 1970   actual  estimate  estimate  total Student support  $1,455  $1,753  $1,936  39% Academic research  1,434  1,404  1,499  30% Institutional support:        29% Current operations  429  468  538 Facilities and equipment  954  911  934 Teacher training  76  91  92  1% Education research  16  24  31  1% TOTAL  $4,363  $4,651  $5,030  100%

Table II FEDERAL SUPPORT OF UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS Expenditures (millions)  est.  % of exp. rec'd. 1968  1969  1970  recipients  by lowest actual  est.  est.  1970  income quartile       (thousands)  (estimated) Undergraduate support: Office of Education Educ. Oppor. grants  $103  $128  $135  309  63% Work-study  112  137  148  344  67% NDEA loans  182  186  164  338  31% Insured loans  27  49  119  850  14% subtotal, Off. of Ed.  $390  $462  $530  1,841 Veterans Administration  323  425  482  627  13% Social Security Admin.  306  368  392  413  NA Defense  17  18  20  15  NA Other  24  29  30  48  NA Totalundergraduate  $1,059  $1,300  $1,454  2,946

Table III FEDERAL SUPPORT OF GRADUATE STUDENTS expenditures  estimated (millions of $)  recipients 1968  1969  1970  (thousands) actual  est.  est.  1970 Graduate Support: National Institute of Health and other health-related graduate aid  $183  $198  $207  98 Veterans Administration  118  154  174  122 Office of Education  49  50  54  163 National Science Foundation  22  25  25  8 Other  24  23  22  7 Total graduate student aid  $396  $452  $481  398

Table IV FEDERAL SUPPORT OF RESEARCH IN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES (in millions of dollars) Expenditures  percentage 1968  1969  1970  of total Department or Agency  actual  est.  est.  1970 est. Health, Education and Welfare  $653  $592  $666  45% Defense  235  252  275  18% National Science Foundation  207  224  243  16% NASA  151  130  109  7% Atomic Energy Commission  93  94  96  6% Agriculture  61  62  64  4% All other  56  50  66  4% TOTAL  $1,456  $1,414  $1,519  100%