E.D. Secretary's Intervention Ends Research Agency Dispute
Washington--The Secretary of Education stepped in last week to settle a bureaucratic power struggle that has pitted the former deputy director of the National Institute of Education, Robert W. Sweet Jr., against its new director.
At week's end, Secretary Terrel H. Bell issued a statement affirming his support for the "leadership of the director," Manuel J. Justiz. The Secretary also urged a "cooperative" relationship between the two officials.
The action by Mr. Bell was said to have been sought by members of Congress, who had received reports criticizing Mr. Sweet's budget actions in his new post, as executive director of the institute's policy-making body.
The latest development in the problem-filled history of the 11-year-old research agency began when Mr. Sweet, as the Reagan-appointed deputy director, ran the agency for several months after the previous director was fired. At the same time, he sought a permanent appointment as director. His ambitions were thwarted, however, when Mr. Justiz, of the University of New Mexico, was appointed to the post.
Although Mr. Sweet did not specifically oppose the appointment of Mr. Justiz, the two are generally considered to be at odds over the purposes of the institute. Mr. Sweet--a former conservative political activist from New Hampshire--has repeatedly contended that the institute has been dominated by the internal concerns of the education-research community, but that it should focus on serving the needs of parents and children.
Mr. Justiz is considered suspect, according to sources close to Mr. Sweet, because he is an educational researcher and an active member of the American Educational Research Association (aera)--an organization that has criticized Mr. Sweet's management of the institute.
In addition to the philosophical conflict, Mr. Sweet is said by sources to be concerned that new research projects he initiated at the institute may be dropped by the new director. (See Education Week, Dec. 29, 1982.)
In January, Mr. Sweet became executive director of the newly reconstituted National Council on Educational Research--the institute's policy-making body, whose members had been appointed by the Reagan Administration.
The council at its first meeting last month passed a series of resolutions and policies that were suggested by Mr. Sweet. The new measures, characterized as attempts to assert the council's authority over the institute, have been strongly opposed by the aera
The association contends that Mr. Sweet's initiatives "are in violation of congressional intent," are "clearly designed to harass the director," and may "help [Mr. Sweet] to gain power over the agency."
The aera's statement on the issue further accuses the council and Mr. Sweet of attempting to "create a New Right think tank within the department."
The resolutions require the institute's director to:
Provide the council, through Mr. Sweet, with "all documents that approve expenditure of funds" for research projects, with lists of those experts participating in peer-review panels, with summaries of all personnel actions in the institute on a monthly basis, and with final reports of projects conducted under grants and contracts.
Refrain from establishing research fellowships unless the new council develops "a specific policy" on fellowships.
Meet "on a regular basis" with Mr. Sweet "to discuss policies affecting the institute" and make available the institute's staff to brief the council upon request.
Set aside, pending the council's determination of its final budget, 1.5 percent of the institute's $55-million budget for separate projects conducted by the council.
David Florio, the aera's representative here, contended that the council "has overstepped its bounds into areas of management--such as programs and personnel--that are specifically the director's."
The Senate committee report that accompanied the legislation creating the institute in 1972 said the director should "have full responsibility for specific program policies and for the management of the institute," according to Mr. Florio.
The report said the council should "establish overall policies, leaving to the director decisions about programs, initiatives, and funding."
Mr. Florio further disputed the funds set aside for the council's projects, saying, "They don't have the authority to do that. When Congress appropriates funds for the research and development program, they are not appropriating funds for the council."
Under previous Administrations, the staff of the council was made up of the institute's employees, and its budget was not separate from the institute's budget. Mr. Sweet and his four-person staff, have a separate budget and have moved to offices away from the institute.
One former member of the council, however, said the new council--as did the former council--may find that its attempts to gain more authority are unsuccessful.
Chester E. Finn Jr., who is now a professor of education and of public policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said the council "has no leverage except moral authority and whatever influence it can exercise" with the Education Department, the Administration, and the Congress.
Attempts to reach Mr. Sweet and the council's president, George C. Roche--who is president of Hillsdale College in Michigan--were unsuccessful last week.