Major Personnel Shakeup Appears Under Way at E.D.
Washington--On his first day on the job March 18, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander told reporters that he would make some personnel changes within a month. He is apparently ahead of schedule.
Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, told senior members of his staff last week that he had been relieved of his position effective April 1. He said in a memorandum, however, that Mr. Alexander had offered him several other posts "on his leadership team."
Oeri sources said last week that the education historian Diane Ravitch was slated to be Mr. Cross's successor. In an interview, she would neither confirm nor deny the report.
Sources in the Education Department also confirmed that Mr. Alexander met with the agency's senior managers last week and sent some of them packing.
According to sources in the department, on Capitol Hill, and in the education community:
Leonard L. Haynes 3rd, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, and Michelle Easton, deputy undersecretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs, were fired.
Nancy M. Kennedy, assistant secretary for legislation, was offered another position in the department.
Betsy Brand, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education; Rita Esquivel, director of the office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs; Robert R. Davila, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services; and Michael L. Williams, assistant secretary for civil rights, were asked to stay on in their current positions.
Sources gave conflicting accounts of the fate of John T. MacDonald, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.
Reacting to speculation that Ms. Ravitch would replace Mr. Cross, Gerald E. Sroufe, director of governmental and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, said, "I think two things we would be interested in would be whether she's ever managed anything--I believe she's an individual scholar--and whether as a historian she knows anything about research."
"It's a complicated bureaucracy," he said, "and even the best scholar in the world can't just walk in there and handle it."
"I would wonder about the choice of someone with no government experience at a time when o.e.r.i. is up for [Congressional] reauthorization," a senior Democratic aide on the House Education and Labor Committee said.
Ms. Ravitch, an adjunct professor of history at Columbia University, Teachers College, is currently a co-chairman of a committee convened under the auspices of the National Academy of Education, a group of scholars, to evaluate the state of education research. Its report is due this month.
Several observers said they saw the hand of Chester E. Finn Jr., who held the o.e.r.i. post during the Reagan Administration, in the personnel moves--particularly in the selection of Ms. Ravitch.
"I'm disappointed [Mr. Alexander] appears to be relying on Checker Finn," one senior o.e.r.i. employee said. "I wonder if he realizes how much of a liability that could be with the bureaucracy and on the Hill."
Mr. Finn, who was an unofficial adviser to Mr. Alexander when he was Governor of Tennessee, confirmed that he has been advising Mr. Alexander during the transition period, but said such estimates of his influence are exaggerated.
"To characterize me as the Rasputin of the Alexander administration would be grossly incorrect," he said.
Most observers said it is not surprising that a new secretary would want to field his own team. Some also noted that Mr. Alexander has apparently sought to retain some appointees who have been praised by the education community, particularly Deputy Secretary Ted Sanders, who is to stay on in a new role.
"For a new person coming in to do a new job, I think it would be a mistake not to clean house," said Jeanne Allen, education analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "You have to work with someone you feel comfortable with."