2 Bennett Aides Quit Amid Furor Over Their Views
Washington--Eileen M. Gardner and Lawrence A. Uzzell, senior advisers to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, resigned without comment last Thursday following a clash with the chairman of a key Senate panel, who called their views on laws for the education of the handicapped "offensive."
While serving as an education-policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, Ms. Gardner wrote that federal special-education laws "have selfishly drained resources from the normal school population." She criticized the handicapped for lobbying for federal aid, claiming that by doing so they seek "to avoid the central issues of their lives."
Mr. Uzzell, as the head of a private education-research firm called Learn Inc., had advocated the abolition of all federal education programs--including P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act--except the National Center for Education Statistics.
Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., the father of a retarded son and chairman of the Senate panel responsible for reviewing the Education Department's budget, criticized Mr. Bennett's hiring of the two and questioned their presence in senior advisory posts in the department.
The testimony in the Weicker hearings prompted outraged responses and calls from Capitol Hill and disability-rights groups for the ouster of Ms. Gardner.
The controversy began with Mr. Bennett's appearance last Tuesday before the Senate panel to testify on the department's proposed fiscal 1986 budget.
During questioning on the budget, Senator Weicker read aloud from papers written by Ms. Gardner and Mr. Uzzell.
Mr. Bennett accused the Senator of practicing "character assassination" and suggested that he confront both directly.
In an unusual move, Senator Weicker, a Connecticut Republican who has championed aid for the handicapped, summoned the two officials to appear before the panel the next day.
Aides' Positions Outlined
"Those of the handicapped constituency who seek to have others bear their burdens and eliminate their challenges are seeking to avoid the central issues of their lives," Ms. Gardner, who holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University, wrote in a draft essay entitled "The Federal Role in Education," dated fall 1983 and cited liberally by Senator Weicker at the hearing.
"Because performance depends on evolution, the only way the performance of the lower (less advanced) can be made equal to that of the higher is artificially to constrain and pervert the performance of the higher, thereby defeating the purpose of existence, which is to evolve upward," she wrote. "This artifical constrainment is exactly what has happened over the past two decades," she added, explaining why federal educa-tion laws have failed.
In a tense exchange with Senator Weicker, Ms. Gardner explained that her views on the education of the handicapped derive from her religious views.
Senator Weicker responded that his committee was not interested in her religious views. But he said: "I don't know who's higher, and I don't know who's lower. Americans--as I understand it, that's the only test that impacts on this committee or the work of this government."
Mr. Uzzell, pressed by Senator Weicker, said that P.L. 94-142 ought to be repealed, along with all other federal education programs. "You cannot separate the well-being of handicapped children from the fact that sat scores were going down every single year from 1963 to 1980," said Mr. Uzzell.
In a statement released following the hearings last Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Bennett said he was "fully committed to supporting P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act" and would "aggressively enforce [its] regulations to the fullest extent of the law."
Mr. Bennett added that Mr. Uzzell's comments "do not in any way reflect the views of this Administration or the Secretary of Education."
Views Said 'Offensive'
Madeleine C. Will, the department's assistant secretary for special education, told the subcommittee last Wednesday that she disagreed with Ms. Gardner's and Mr. Uzzell's views on the education of the handicapped.
Senator Weicker, in a letter to Mr. Bennett after the hearings, called the views of Ms. Gardner and Mr. Uzzell "offensive" and said that "at the very least it would be my recommendation to the committee that no public monies be appropriated for their positions."
In a response to Senator Weicker, Mr. Bennett said: "As you know, neither was hired to represent the department in any public forum and neither was hired to report directly to me. Nor were they hired to be involved in any way with programs involving disabled Americans. I must add that their views in this area, of which I learned this week, are totally out of line with those of the Administration."
Ms. Gardner was hired to study school-improvement issues in Mr. Bennett's new office of educational philosophy and practice, a "think-tank" he established in his office. (Terry H. Eastland, who was to head the office, left the department last week to work as the director of public affairs at the Justice Department, at the request of Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd.)
Mr. Uzzell was hired to work in the undersecretary's office on issues of parental choice.
Following Ms. Gardner's comments, advocacy groups and Congressmen expressed outrage, and some on Capitol Hill said her presence in the department raised serious questions about Mr. Bennett's stewardship.
Representative Tony Coelho, a Democrat of California who suffers from epilepsy, called for Ms. Gardner's resignation. "I find [her] beliefs totally unacceptable, and as President of all Americans, including the handicapped, I call on you to withdraw her appointment," said Representative Coelho, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a letter to President Reagan. A coalition of disability-advocacy groups also called for her ouster.
John F. Jennings, counsel to the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, called Ms. Gardner's comments "rather outrageous." He added, "Why would the Secretary of Education bring people like these into the department?"
S. Gray Garwood, staff director of the House panel with jurisdiction over special-education programs, said the incident "affects Mr. Bennett's credibility on the Hill." He noted that "members have been straining to overlook" the Secretary's strong rhetoric "because when he appears up here he looks reasonable and thoughtful."
Scott Widmeyer, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, said "one has to be concerned when the secretary of education makes the kind of statements he makes and brings in people" like Mr. Uzzell and Ms. Gardner.
Meanwhile, an Administration official noted that "the debate in town seems to be not as gentlemanly as it could be" and said he hoped that future confrontations between the Congress and the Education Department "would be more substantive than this one."
Upon hearing of the resignations of the two officials, Senator Weicker commented: "This matter has been resolved to the benefit of education in our country."