Unequal Protection


GGETTING AT recalcitrant students through their pocketbooks is no new strategy for the federal government. The most recent parallel to the new regulations linking federal aid to draft registration came in the late 1960's. Bill after bill was then proposed to bar federal aid from college students known to have taken part in protests and demonstrations. Harvard never had to deal with such a problem because the bills were never passed. In 1968, though, a rule on Harvard's own books restricted certain funds from being given to students who had been arrested. After the occupation of Paine Hall, when several of the students arrested proved indeed to be on the restricted type of financial aid. Harvard's decision was quick and unambiguous: According to then-aid director Seamus P. Malin '62, the aid office found a discretionary fund to replace the lost funds, used it, and subsequently saw to it that the rule was removed from the books.

But the federal rules approved last week, which deny federal education funds to male students who have not registered for the draft, are too comprehensive for any such ad hoc remedies. Applying to Guaranteed Student Loans, PLUS auxiliary loans, National Direct Student Loans, Pell Grants, supplemental grants, and work-study, the rules would affect about two million college and graduate students, according to New York Times estimates. Harvard distributes more than $2 million of such aid yearly. The new procedure, which simply requires that students provide proof of having registered to qualify for federal aid, has no appeals clause for philosophic opposition to the draft or registration. Terrel H. Bell, Secretary of Education, puts the argument for this omission just as simply: "The law is the law."

The law may indeed be the law. But it is also insidious--another way for the government to sidestep the problems it has faced so far in enforcing registration through appropriate channels. The Selective Service System (SSS) now numbers eligible men who have not registered at about 564,000; so far, it has indicted 12. And even those 12 have snarled the government in lawsuits and charges of discriminatory treatment, since the government has prosecuted only those non-registrants who turn themselves in.

Now, though, while making no effort to launch the near-impossible sweep of non-registrants, the government has demonstrated its willingness to delegate that task. The recipients of the responsibility are the schools, whose financial aid networks are already in disarray thanks to federal aid cuts and bureaucratic delays over the past year. And above and beyond the practical difficulties of acting as the federal government's policemen, colleges and universities will face serious philosophical questions. Can an admissions office attempting to attract a diverse class or, at the very least, committed to furthering equal educational opportunity, double as a screening bureau for registration evaders?

In addition, the use of Congressional regulations as a means of tracking down violators of another law sets a disturbing precedent of confusion between branches of power. A Minnesota public interest group has already filed suit against the state registration form on those grounds, saying that the new procedure in effect deprives a student of due process or a trial.

Defenders of the new policy concentrate their arguments on the idea that an individual who "does not accept the basic responsibility of a society ... has no claims to the benefits of that society," as Maj. Gen. Thomas K. Turnage, the SSS' director, has said. Characteristically, he and other Administration officials fail to focus on the practical effects of such a simple theoretical equation. Chief among these is the havoc it will wreak on educational choice, especially if some colleges follow through on hinted offers and provide their own aid to students rendered ineligible for federal assistance. While schools that do so--one that has come forward is Swarthmore--are to be lauded, a highly unfair situation will result if, for non-registrants, applying to certain schools becomes tantamount to turning oneself in.

The unfairness is of a type too familiar from earlier Administration policies. The rich, who do not need financial aid, can still refuse to register: only the poor will be forced to make the decision between education and the dictates of their consciences. That, of course, is the philosophical argument for enforcing the law through the courts. Linking compliance to any other action skews the group who will be held to the letter of the law. The main charge previously leveled against a volunteer armed force will in this manner become reality. If the rich can pay their way out of the draft--this time through their term bills--the needy will have to fight.

The Crimson is pleased to announce the election of Paul T. Evans, of The Shop and Marietta, Ohio.