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Harvard on the Hill

By Robert O. Boorstin and Susan D. Chira

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.

Harvard has lobbied hard in favor of the middle income assistance program, says Thomas R. Wolanin of the House Select Committee on Post-Secondary Education. R. Jerrold Gibson '51, director of Harvard's office of Fiscal Services, has made frequent trips to the Capitol. "Gibson has been helping our staff devise a bill that technically does the right thing; he's really one of the national experts on student loans," Wolanin says.

Gibson elaborates on Harvard's opposition to the tax credits proposal, saying, "Tax credit money goes to the wrong people--38 per cent of the money will go to families with incomes over $30,000." Although tax credit supporters cite the administrative simplicity of the plan--taxpayers can claim the benefit by answering a few questions on their tax forms--Cottington says the Internal Revenue Service would have to develop a complex bureaucracy to monitor the program that will duplicate the functions of existing financial aid bureaucracies.

Despite months of preparation and cajoling, the fight is far from over. Gibson sees "a long and tortuous road" on the horizon. The contest over tuition assistance for middle income families may well turn into a fight to endure rather than to pressure.

Harvard consistently urges Congress to continue government grants for university research projects. Organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Endowment for the Humanities traditionally award many research grants to Harvard. Harvard works both through these organizations and Congressional committees responsible for authorization of grants and appropriation of federal money. Walter Dodd of the National Science Foundation says the foundation itself is prohibited from lobbying Congress for support of the grants it approves. Harvard faculty members, he says, play an important role by testifying at Congressional committees. A spokesman for the National Endowment for the Humanities notes that faculty testimony helps keep Congressmen informed of how the grant money is spent and of other ways universities could use grant money.

A staffer for the House Subcommittee on Science and Technology adds other ways Harvard can exert pressure for more research support. Members of prominent universities are often on the governing boards of funding organizations like the National Science Foundation, and so can urge a foundation to grant as much money as possible for research, he says. In addition, University faculty members are on disciplinary advisory commissions that oversee applications for grants falling within their disciplines. "Practically any full professor at the Medical School and the Biology Department has served," Dr. Bernard C. Davis, Lehman Professor of Bacterial Physiology at the Med School, says.

Harvard also uses the "old boy" network, the staffer adds. Because of the huge number of former Harvard students and faculty members in federal agencies and on Capitol Hill, Harvard can often find a sympathetic ear.

Perhaps the most pressing research-related problem is overhead recovery of operating expenses universities must dole out in order to conduct federal research projects. Recent decisions by President Carter--including an 11 per cent increase for 1979 in basic research funds for universities and the proposed formation of a separate Department of Education--make research costs all the more important. There are two kinds of research expenses--direct and indirect. Direct expenses include those which provide for lab instruments, technicians and other specifically earmarked items. Both the government and Harvard agree that these costs should be covered by the group directly benefiting from the research efforts.

The problems come in the area of indirect costs--those expenses for providing an "environment" in which research can take place.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) governs allocations of federal subsidies to universities for such costs. The OMB recently proposed revisions in the guidelines. And Harvard, which has always felt the regulations "left much to be desired," now finds "glaring deficiences."

The debate--and any Harvard lobbying efforts--is not over what Cottington labels "broad premises" but rather the "nuts and bolts" of the situation. Harvard's position is clear--"It is not equitable to expect Harvard to provide an environment for work without any assistance at all from the federal government," says Cottington. He admits, however, Harvard would still sponsor research regardless of the availability of federal funds.

Both the AAU and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) are playing the lead role in lobbying for the universities' position on research monies. The NACUBO has formed a committee of the 100 largest research institutions in the country to specifically attack this problem on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington.

The present revision, says Cottington, fails not only in equitably sharing costs but will also impose upon universities, "extremely difficult and expensive administrative requirements." Beneath these comments, however, lurks an underlying feeling in the Office of Government Affairs that Harvard's policy influence is shrinking. "What began as a full-fledged partnership," says Cottington, "has been eroded over the years. This issues is crucial not just to Harvard but to basic research in America."

Harvard and the government, says John Lordan of OMB, are not partners nor are they adversaries. "It's an overworked analogy," he insists. But, sematics aside, it is clear that Harvard isn't about to give up. Cottington's promise bears an air of finality: "Whatever effort it takes, we will bend to come to a happier solution."

In 1973, Congress passed the Rehablitation Act, which set guidelines, implemented in 1977, to accomodate disabled and handicapped students.

The new guidelines mandate strict adaptations to make all academic "programs" accessible to disabled students. "Harvard," says Nancy Randolph, President Bok's special assistant for Affirmative Action, "has made every attempt to comply" to effect this transition.

For disabled and handicapped students, such as Marc Fielder '78, president of Students Advocating a Better Learning Environment (ABLE), this has meant advances. At this time, more than half of Harvard's facilities are accessible, says Randolph. She adds that the University is making special preparations for incoming handicapped students, helping disabled students find their way around campus, and rescheduling classes so disabled students are able to take the courses that most interest them.

Currently, Randolph's committee is working on a self-evaluation mandated by the law. Did Harvard do things for disabled students before the law went into effect? Yes, says Randolph, but only on an individual basis. What is Harvard doing now in Washington to facilitate this transition? Lobbying hard to secure federal aid to fund architectural changes that are required in order for the University to comply with the regulations.

There are more battles ahead for disabled students at Harvard and the University itself, but neither is showing a shortage of energy to work for what it wants.

To keep abreast of developments in Washington, Harvard juggles a fair number of complex issues. It is for this purpose that the University cultivates an effective lobbying staff--one that forcefully represents Harvard's position through the many avenues of lobbying. The government may remain obdurate on many of its positions, but Harvard is equally stubborn, and as long as both sides stick to their guns, the lobbying game is bound to continue.

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