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The resignations of Eileen M. Gardner and Lawrence A. Uzzell, former advisers to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, are being portrayed by some outspoken conservatives as the result of a misguided "cave-in" by Mr. Bennett to the demands of a powerful senator and practical politics.

"Within a month, Secretary Bennett went from being the only Cabinet member in the second term to defend the Administration's budget cuts with gusto, to being the first to sacrifice subordinates to the wrath of the Washington political establishment," opined the Washington Times newspaper on May 1.

Another Times piece guessed at Mr. Bennett's main political consideration--to ensure a smooth confirmation hearing for Undersecretary-designate Gary L. Bauer--and quoted leaders of the "New Right" as saying they were disappointed by his failure to "stand up" for his aides.

In Human Events, the self-styled "national conservative weekly," Paul Weyrich, head of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, observed that Mr. Bennett, as a professional academic, "doesn't understand politics." Mr. Weyrich predicted the incident would encourage opponents of Mr. Bennett.

Meanwhile, Ms. Gardner and Mr. Uzzell are responding to their departures in different ways. They resigned after an uproar over their views on aid for education of the handicapped, which were revealed and denounced at a budget hearing by Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

Ms. Gardner has returned to the Heritage Foundation, the policy-research organization where she worked prior to her four-day tenure in the Secretary's office of education philosophy and practice. She has publicly criticized Mr. Bennett's handling of the affair, in which he initially defended her and Mr. Uzzell but then criticized their views as "repugnant."

Mr. Uzzell, meanwhile, will not speak to reporters on the record. But in lengthy private elaborations, he is said to be defending his own views and reputation, while separating himself from the views expressed by Ms. Gardner. He reportedly declines to criticize Mr. Bennett.

Pre-Emptive Clarification

Mr. Bennett, apparently becoming more sensitive to public sensibilities, last week clarified a recent statement before it could touch off another controversy.

Defending proposed Administration student-aid cuts that would bar aid to families with incomes above $60,000, he told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "I guess we are saying to that 8 percent of the population [families with more than six children], 'If you're smart enough to make $60,000, do your family planning a little better. Not have fewer children, just maybe do your family planning a little better or find other means."'

The next day, a spokesman for Mr. Bennett emphasized that the Secretary was talking about "family financial planning." The spokesman said that there had been no criticism of the statement but that Mr. Bennett, who attended Jesuit Schools, "wanted to clarify what he said."


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