Commentary

Should We Deny College Aid to Draft Nonregistrants? No, It Would Change the Concept of Education

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The Selective Service System's advertisements put it in simple terms: "Registration: It's quick, it's easy, and it's the law!" On Jan. 21, 1983, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell echoed that simplicity when he explained the new federal requirement for receiving Title IV aid under the Higher Education Act of 1965. He said, "The message is simple: no registration, no money."

But the purpose for putting such a law on the books in the first place is a bit unclear. When Representative Gerald B. Solomon, Republican of New York, introduced his amendment making draft registration a criterion for aid under the Higher Education Act, he said his intention was to properly inform nonregistrants--many of whom "have been misled by college professors who tell them to 'go ahead and disobey the law of the land, commit a felony, and live with that for the rest of your life"'--of their duty.

A supporting Congressional colleague sounded a little less altruistic but was certainly sincere when he stated his opinion that "if young men do not think enough of their country to register to defend it, I do not see any reason at all why they should get benefits from that country."

Regardless of whether the Solomon Amendment was passed to inform or to punish nonregistrants, it is an expensive, cumbersome means to achieve either purpose. Nationwide, financial-aid officers are left with the chore of rewriting their public-information materials, reprogramming their computers, retraining support personnel, relocating Title IV recipients to give them additional information, rescinding some prior awards and, finally, reallocating Title IV funds.

The cost of this is hardly small. C. Peter Magrath, president of the University of Minnesota, estimates that the university's cost for implementing this program will be in excess of $10,000. In two years, schools are scheduled to be given the additional responsibility of personally verifying each aid recipient's compliance with the draft law. So Mr. Magrath will have the additional expense and chore of changing procedures again.

The effectiveness of the program is also questionable. When queried as to how many nonregistrants would be affected by this law, General Thomas K. Turnage, director of the Selective Service System, told the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education that there are approximately 45,000 nonregistrants who are receiving Title IV funds. That figure is less than one-eighth of the current total of nonregistrants. As Sen. Dave Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, observed, this means that each of the 8,500 postsecondary institutions of this country needs to lay out a considerable amount of money to locate, inform, and punish an average of 5.5 registration resisters per institution.

Furthermore, the bureaucratic bog that the amendment will create seems senseless in light of the fact that the Reagan Administration already has a mechanism for enforcing the registration law. As with all federal laws, there is a penalty for disobedience. Registration violators are subject to a maximum of five years' incarceration and a $10,000 fine. As with other crimes, guilt and punishment are to be determined by a court after the nonregistrant has been officially charged and tried.

The Solomon Amendment precludes these due-process procedures and automatically classifies a certain sector of society as criminal. Unlike the judicial system, in which the law is administered indiscriminately, this provision clearly affects only the nonregistrants from lower to lower-middle income families who seek a college education. Those people wealthy enough to support their own education or who choose not to attend college are unaffected by this law. In short, registration resistance carries an additional penalty for poor males seeking higher education.

Equally disturbing is the government's use of educational institutions to circumvent the judicial system. Rather than affording individuals the right of a trial, the Solomon Amendment requires financial-aid applicants to verify their innocence. If applicants cannot do this, they are deemed guilty of committing a felony and are penalized as a result.

This creates an untidy but convenient way for the government to enforce the law. The less-than-enthusiastic Justice Department has indicted a mere 15 people since registration began in 1980.

And as long as educational or other institutions can be deputized to enforce the registration law, it is unlikely that the Justice Department will find it necessary to prosecute draft resisters at a more rapid rate. This is both poor legal and poor educational precedent.

For educators, the most disturbing aspect of the Solomon Amendment should be that it is detrimental to our basic concept of education. Although the Solomon Amendment has been cast simply as a new criterion for receiving aid, it changes the rules of education. Previously, financial aid for education was awarded on the basis of financial need. Other criteria such as race, sex, creed, and so on, were not considered relevant to one's qualification for educational assistance. Convicted felons were even considered eligible and worthy of receiving help in obtaining an education.

Under the Solomon Amendment, educational aid is based on the need and the desirability of the applicant. If a person is not in agreement with the government's position--that registration is both necessary and moral--then he is viewed as a social malcontent and considered unworthy of further educational financial assistance.

In a free society, this is a dangerous educational policy. Although there is little question as to whether registration is the law, there is room for considerable debate as to whether it is a good or necessary law. The government must recognize that many intelligent people have deep intellectual and moral questions concerning draft registration. Registration was reinstated to show American resolve in response to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. President Reagan continued the policy during the Soviet meddling in Poland. Registration exists today as an explicit threat to recalcitrant countries in Central America. It is a forced endorsement by the young in support of the foreign and military policies of the United States. If we are to retain our personal and corporate integrity, we cannot allow dissent on these issues to be suppressed by the neat little dictums offered by the Selective Service System and Secretary Bell.

This assault on academic freedom is not subtle. Since proposing his original amendment, Representative Solomon has introduced additional legislation, HR 2950, which would remove all federal aid from schools that have made grants or loans to nonregistrants, even if such funds came from private resources. Apparently, Representative Solomon wants to control not only who is educated with federal funds, but also who receives private educational aid.

Neither our country nor our educational institutions are served well when education is made subject to tests of patriotism or conformity. Our national history stands as a testament to the concept of the independent mind. When we compromise our educational institutions by using them as a tool of the state, we have replaced the primacy of academics with politics.

The Solomon Amendment is a dangerous step in this direction. By attaching draft-registration status to educational funds, the powers that be are determining who is worthy of education. Because such determinations are made outside of the judiciary, even the benefit of due process has been eliminated from such decisions. And the fact that schools are asked to pay for this academic and bureaucratic mess is an insult, if not an injury. After these considerations, Secretary Bell's message does not seem so simple.

Vol. 03, Issue 01, Pages 26, 28

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