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When Congress began reviewing proposals to create a separate Department of Education last year, Harvard and other private educational institutions worried that establishment of the new agency would lead to increased federal influence on policy decisions.
But when all the furor over the formation of the 13th Cabinet department dies down, universities and other post-secondary institutions may find little changed in their relations with the federal government.
As Hale A. Champion, special assistant to President Bok and former undersecretary of the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW), said yesterday, the proposal "basically just moves the Office of Education into a department."
Of the 152 programs the department will oversee, 131--including most measures which deal with federal aid to university students--will come from the Office of Education in HEW.
Despite fears voiced by Bok and other private university officials that the new agency will increase federal intervention in campus policies, the bill contains the strongest prohibition against federal intervention in history.
Charles B. Saunders, vice-president for government relations at the American Council for Education, said yesterday, "the bill does almost nothing to change the way higher education relates to government."
Section 103 of the legislation, in fact, mandates that the establishment of the agency "shall not increase the authority of federal government over education or diminish the responsibility of states and private institutions."
In addition, the legislation provides spokesmen for the viewpoints of higher education, including an Assistant Secretary for Post-Secondary Education and an Intergovernmental Advisory Council for Higher Education.
The advisory council would include representatives from all sides of the post-secondary community, including administrators, professors, government officials and students.
The proposed department will probably not focus on issues in post-secondary education.
None of the candidates President Carter is said to be seriously considering for the position of agency secretary, for example, is from the higher education community.
Many of the bill's opponents, moreover, voiced fears that the department would become the mouthpiece for the National Educational Association, the group which joined the White House to lobby for the bill. If so, then college officials need not worry about more regulation; the NEA has traditionally focused on primary and secondary education.
If the new department threatens the status of higher education programs, it will probably do so in the financial arena. If primary and secondary interest groups dominate agency policy, much sought-after aid to education funds may be rerouted from the nation's colleges.
Officials need not worry, therefore, that the agency will bring increased federal influence to bear on higher education programs. At the least, the department appears to be a new framework for old policies; at most, however, it will require universities to fight harder for federal funds
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