The chorus of protest against the cuts in financial aid in President Reagan's prohibited 1983 budget crescendoed this week. As college and university administrators, financial aid officers and students converged on Washington for a rally and a concerted lobbying effort, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education heard testimony from President Bok and seven other college presidents, and congressional offices, according to one aide, were "inundated with mail."
The message from lobbyists, witnesses and sympathetic congressional spokesmen was the same: that the massive cuts in educational funding Reagan has proposed will "mortgage the future" of the nation at a time when--according to the President's own analysis--the United States can ill afford to weaken its intellectual and technological base.
Bok's testimony before the House subcommittee Wednesday stressed this line of argument repeatedly, citing "the national interest" in arguing against the cuts. For instance, he said, "National interest requires a continuing flow of exceptionally gifted people" in basic sciences and university teaching to prevent society's stagnation.
Optimism rose among lobbyists and their supporters in the Senate and House as the week went on, though all agreed that following up the lobbying effort with more letters, calls and visits will be crucial.
Congressmen also expressed skepticism over declarations from former budget supporters--including 21 freshman Republican representatives--that they would oppose further cuts in aid to higher education. While such aid supporters might well vote against financial aid cuts as an independent issue, they could easily support Reagan's unamended budget package, observers said.
The 5000 to 7000 students who lobbied in Washington at the beginning of the week--under the auspices of groups like the United States Student Association (USSA) and the Coalition of Private College and University Students (COPUS)--pursued a less-directed strategy, using every available weapons to sway as many Congressman as possible to vote against the proposed budget.
Organizers warned some groups not to be drawn into debate comparing the importance of financial aid funding with other budget items such as welfare or social security. "These people are being hit for every issue you can think of," Dallas Martin, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told a Massachusetts group Sunday night.
Lobbvists were urged, on the other hand, to invite comparisons with the defense budget, for which Reagan has proposed the largest funding increase in U.S. history. Charts distributed to students showed how reducing the military proposals by two MX missiles, two Tridents and one B-1 bomber would free enough money to compensate for all the proposed cuts to the Guaranteed Student Loan (GSL) program.
COPUS and USSA, the two nationwide student sponsoring organizations, also pursued widely varying strategies. While COPUS arranged meetings with congressmen, USSA members formed "human billboards" in streets around Capitol Hill and staged a rally on the Capitol steps Monday evening that about 5000 students attended.
While some participants felt the two approaches were complimentary, others felt the rally--at which students waved a Ronald Reagan dummy on a stick and chanted, "Reagan He's No Good, Send Him Back to Hollywood"--hurt the serious, informed image lobbyists were trying to convey.
The demonstrators and human billboards "made some Congressmen just say, 'Oh, what are the longhairs up to now?' "complained Barbara Tarnow, Brandeis University's financial aid director and a coordinator for the lobby, "especially since a lot of them looked like hell."