N.S.F.'s Education Director Ousted in Reorganization Plan
Washington--The longtime head of the National Science Foundation's education programs will be ousted under a reorganization plan announced by the agency last week.
The plan, which nsf officials described as an attempt to make the science-education programs more visible and to improve the coordination among them, will add to the education directorate two programs that provide research opportunities for women and minorities. It will also change the name of the directorate to the "directorate for education and human resources."
As part of the reshuffling, the agency named Luther S. Williams, currently senior science adviser to the nsf's director, Erich Bloch, to head the revamped directorate. Mr. Williams will replace Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, who headed the directorate for the past six years.
Mr. Shakhashiri, who is being reassigned to a post in the director's office, said he planned to "slug this thing out and fight for my career."
"If I became convinced that I was an impediment to science education, I would step aside," he said. "But nobody's told me I have been. In fact, they said the opposite."
Margaret L. MacVicar, chairman of the advisory committee for the education directorate, questioned whether the reorganization would accomplish its intended aim. She added that replacing Mr. Shakhashiri was "disappointing," since he had led the directorate back to respectability after it was eliminated in the early 1980's.
But Raymond E. Bye, director of the nsf's office of legislative and public affairs, said the changes would help the agency move toward meeting the goal set by President Bush and the governors to make the United States first in the world in science and mathematics by the year 2000.
"It's time for a change," he said. "It's time to get some new leadership and take advantage of the challenges and opportunities" the goals present.
The announcement of the reorganization last week put to rest a number of rumors that have swept through the science-education community.
Reacting to a memorandum written by Mr. Williams, that apparently was rejected by Mr. Bloch, some educators had expressed alarm that the nsf had planned to disperse postsecondary programs to the research directorates. Such a move, said Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the8National Science Teachers' Association, would have "emasculated" the education directorate.
The moves announced last week, Mr. Aldridge noted, would leave the directorate's core programs intact.
"If they are not screwing up the directorate, and moving money and programs, we have no quarrel with it," he said.
In addition, a Congressional aide suggested that adding human-resources programs to the education directorate would present the Congress with a more accurate picture of the agency's efforts in that area.
"One of the problems has been that Congress doesn't look at the big picture," said James Wilson, an aide to the House Subcommittee on Science Research and Technology, which oversees the nsf "They just look at the science- and engineering-education directorate budget. There are other things in science education besides see."
But Ms. MacVicar, a professor of physical sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the new programs may not enhance the agency's education effort, and may in fact detract from it.
"It's not immediately apparent whether it's a good or a bad thing until it plays itself out," she said. "What one wants is that the addition of human-resources programs means high-quality science education for all. The risk is that by emphasizing so much on human resources, one may obscure the proper focus on curriculum and teaching."
Ms. MacVicar added that the timing of the reorganization is "very odd," since it is taking place so soon before Mr. Bloch's term of office is scheduled to expire in August.
"If it's going to be done, the new director should do it with a plan and a framework for how to do it," she said. "It's not something that should be done in the last couple of months."
Mr. Bye responded that the next director may make additional changes, but he noted that there is no successor to Mr. Bloch "waiting in the wings."
In addition, he suggested that the appointment of Mr. Williams, a former president of Atlanta University, would strengthen the foundation's ties with other federal agencies involved in science education. Mr. Williams currently serves as co-chairman of the human-resources committee of an interagency science task force.
"Under Mr. Williams, we are confident the agency will do more" for science education, Mr. Bye said.