Harvard on the Hill

JUNE 1-- The debate on the House tuition tax credit bill was long and grueling. And when it was finally over, and the bill had passed 237-158, about 400 representatives poured into the lobby and found--'What else do you find in a lobby?' as one staff member put it--lobbyists. More than 15 representatives from college and secondary school organizations greeted the Congressmen. They were all there--from the coalition of Independent College and University Students to the American Association of Universities. And somehow, in the morass of pledges and please and pushing, Harvard was making its point.

Harvard is a fairly frequent visitor to Washington, and the purpose of its trips, more often than not, is to lobby for issues the University believes directly concern the Harvard community. Harvard's Office of Government and Community Affairs acts as Harvard's liason, monitoring Congressional legislation and administrative regulations, developing policy positions, and marshalling support in Washington for its interests on various issues, ranging from tuition aid to middle-class families, to support for research grants.

Harvard has no official office in Washington, and operates mainly from Cambridge, says Michael F. Brewer, director of governmental relations in the office, but Brewer and other Harvard officials will often make their way down to Washington on the shuttle to talk to Congressmen and bureaucrats, and when important legislation is being debated, staff members may spend days there. The primary function of Brewer's office is to provide information to overworked staffers. Harvard can develop expertise on specific issues that staffers can not match, whether they are in Congress or the bureaucracy. An aide on the House Sub-committee on Science and Technology confirms Brewer's analysis. Harvard, he says, provides information on certain issues as often as it lobbies for a position on those issues. Other Congressional staffers, however, have experienced intensive and at times aggressive Harvard lobbying, especially in the case of recombinant DNA legislation.

"You talk to people on the Hill, because they're looking for information on how institutions such as Harvard work from the inside, so they can write legislation that works," Brewer says. Harvard administrator often work with staff people to explain what may make a certain bill unworkable in light of Harvard's procedure or policy, Brewer adds.

Harvard's main lobbyist is Nan Nixon, who is also employed by Stanford, the University of Michigan and other universities. A Washington attorney and a registered lobbyist, Nixon works as a consultant and representative for Harvard on health and biomedical issues, Parker Cottington, of the Government and Community Affairs Office, explains.


Nixon's name is a familiar one to many Washington staffers, for in the course of her work for Harvard she has developed a wide range of Congressional and bureaucratic contacts--as Cottington put it, "acting as our eyes and ears on the Washington world." Nixon worked as a unofficial lobbyist, until "Gradually she got to know many people who were turning to her with questions. Someone finally said we should face the fact that Nan was doing a substantial amount of lobbying," Cottington recalls. Nixon registered as a lobbyist in March of this year.

Nixon's lobbying activities focus on health and biomedical legislation. This year, she became involved in the medical school funding issues after an amendment was tacked to a House bill at 3 a.m. requiring medical schools receiving government funds to admit a quota of foreign medical students. Cottington says if Congress had realized the unanimous opposition the bill faced from medical schools it would not have passed the amendment. Cottington also notes that Harvard prefers to work with staffers so that the University will never find itself with similar last-minute battles to fight. He cites this as one of Nixon's most important roles--to represent Harvard's position behind the scenes in order to prevent a public confrontation on the Congressional floor.

Another avenue for Harvard lobbying lies with groups such as the American Association of Universities (AAU) and the National Education Council (NEC). Fifty high-powered research universities compose the membership of the AAU, and Cottington says whenever possible, Harvard tries to work through such a group, adding "It's more effective to have 50 universities backing a position than one."

A spokesman for the AAU, however, says the organization does not take a stand on very many issues, and only when t'here is a consensus. "We couldn't lobby on an issue unless a full vote was taken," she says. The AAU gathers this consensus at its two general meetings a year, attended by university presidents. Harvard, however, is one of the most vocal of all the members of the AAU. "Because of the nature of Harvard, they do carry a lot of weight within the organization, but we maintain a deliberate position of equality," she says.

Brewer says Harvard does not try to impose its viewpoint on other AAU members. "Individuals will talk to each other and work out consensus positions," he adds.

Perhaps the biggest legislative headache Harvard and other universities face together at this time is the issue of financial assistance to students from middle-income families. The problem is simple--provide as much money to as many students from families in the $15,000 to $20,000 range as possible with the least amount of confusion, taxpayer complaint and inequality.

The solution towards helping families with tuition burdens, however, is far from easy.

Two plans--each designed to aid the financially burdened but woefully underassisted middle-income family--have sparked controversy. Although most Congressmen agree about the ends, they cannot achieve a consensus on the means to this end. The first proposal, the tuition tax credit program, envisions a 25-per-cent tax credit on tuition for all families with children attending college, regardless of economic status. The plan, passed by the House on June 1 by a vote of 237 to 158, faces strong opposition from almost every institution of higher learning in the country, including Harvard, because, Cottington says, it gives money regardless of financial need, which could create a separate bureaucracy to administer the tax credits, and may cut into existing financial aid support that benefits poorer families. In the Senate, meanwhile, debate centers over a similar bill introduced by Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

President Carter has consistently promised to veto tuition tax credit legislation. The addition to the bill of a controversial amendment including elementary and secondary education in the tax credit eligibility, combined with Carter's opposition, almost ensure a veto, Senate aides predict.

The alternative plan provides for expansion of existing middle income tuition aid programs, including Basic Education Opportunity Grants (BEOG), Supplementary Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG), and College Work-Study Programs.