At the beginning of the summer, the Selective Service System estimated that some 8.4 million young men, 93 percent of those eligible, had registered for the draft. While claiming that figure showed high compliance, officials acknowledged that a still higher portion would have to sign up for the system to be equitable, and for routine enforcement to be feasible. So the federal government began to crack down.
In the executive branch, the Justice Department proceeded to clear 160 names for prosecution (indicting six and winning two convictions to date). On the legislative side, Congress approved a measure which would deny federal assistance--including student aid--to anyone who has not complied.
Presented in the form of an amendment of the massive defense authorization legislation, this provision sailed through both houses with only minimal opposition. It will take effect for the 1983-84 school year and will affect all aid programs, including Guaranteed Student Loans, Pell Grants and Work Study funds.
The House version, which passed in late July, provoked a furor in the academic community because it allowed the Department of Education to ask colleges and universities to help out with enforcement. (The Senate amendment, which was approved two-and-a-half months before, left the chore entirely up to the government.) Administrators complained of unwieldy and impossible paperloads which they said would result.
Now, after the conference committee compromise has been accepted, much of the educators' excitement has died down. While still allowing for a university role, the law includes a statement of intent declaring that the burden will be kept to a minimum--most likely that institutions will have to ask students whether they have registered, but leaving the verification up to the feds. "They have given us an adequate framework," says Charles F. Saunders, a lobbyist for the American Council on Education.
But some observers are still wary. Richard W. Black, associate director for financial aid, notes that the regulations, the working language for the law, have yet to be written and will likely not come out until March. He adds that these will be crucial in determining just how much colleges and universities will have to put out.
And many still harbor the ethical objections and fears they have expressed since the idea of linking aid with registration first popped up. Saunders says his organization has opposed it "because of the equality issue, singling out low-income students for enforcement."
Seamus P. Malin, acting financial aid director, raises the possibility of rupturing the crucial relationship between his office and families of aid recipients.
Malin also asks the sticky question of just how Harvard would respond to enforcement of the new law. "What are we supposed to do? Let them drop out? Or replace that money with Harvard money, in which case, it will seem that we are rewarding people for having flouted the law."