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By Jonathan D. Ratner

How "private"--how free from government control--can the private university really be?

In recent years, the federal government has repeatedly flexed its financial muscle, threatening universities with a cutoff of federal funding if they refused to comply with federal guidelines on issues ranging from affirmative action to facilities for the handicapped.

This week, however, officials at two private midwestern medical schools joined 30 others in saying "no" to the federal government and preparing for consequent financial hardships.

Med school administrators at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University said they will refuse to comply with a federal regulation that requires medical schools to accept for admission government-selected Americans who have completed two years of study at foreign medical schools.

Administrators at each school said they consider the foreign student regulation an invasion of university autonomy and termed their non-compliance "a matter of principle."

Harvard administrators said this week they have not decided whether they will follow the example of their colleagues in the midwest and reject the government's guideline and the federal funding that is tied with it. Harvard is still "keeping its options open" on the issue, President Bok said this week.

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