Dart Resigns in Dispute With Will
Washington--Bowing to a request from the White House, Justin W. Dart Jr. resigned last week as commissioner of rehabilitation services, less than two weeks after he delivered an unusually frank public critique of his own agency.
As a result of his pointed remarks at a Congressional hearing Nov. 18, Mr. Dart's situation had become "untenable," said William Kristol, chief of staff to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.
Mr. Dart, whose resignation from the Presidentially appointed post was sought by top Education Department officials as early as October, had vowed to keep his job unless President Reagan asked him to quit.
His departure is the culmination of a long-brewing dispute between the commissioner and Assistant Secretary of Education Madeleine C. Will, who heads the office of special education and rehabilitative services. Mr. Dart's agency, the rehabilitation-services administration, is one of three branches under osers.
The commissioner and groups in the rehabilitation field have charged that Ms. Will "usurped" Mr. Dart's authority to run his office, which oversees federal programs designed to help handicapped adults become self-sufficient.
During the hearing last month be4fore the House Subcommittee on Select Education, Mr. Dart discarded his prepared remarks and told the panel that his agency was undermanned, lacking in morale, and "ravaged by disunity and hostility" because of Ms. Will's management practices. (See Education Week, Nov. 25, 1987.)
"No one signs a pledge to never say anything different from the party line," Mr. Kristol said last week, "but he sort of went out of his way."
Mr. Kristol said Ms. Will, who was unavailable for comment, did not initiate the commissioner's ouster.
"One does not depart from political protocol without facing certain consequences," Mr. Dart acknowledged in an interview.
But, he added, "I felt my statement of conscience was so important to the future of people with disabilities that it had to be made."
'A Day of Shame'
Mr. Dart's resignation, which becomes effective Dec. 15, was greeted with sadness and some anger by members of the Congress and the rehabilitation community.
"Here is a man who's courageous enough to say that things are not as they should be" and "he's fired as a result," said Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York, who chaired the November hearing.
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Handicapped, called the resignation "a loss to people with disabilities, their families, and those who serve them."
"It's a day of shame," added Paul Dziedzic, president of the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, an organization that has been at odds with Ms. Will.
Mr. Dart's criticism echoed many of the complaints made earlier by the state administrators' group.
In a letter to officials in the vocational-rehabilitation field last week, however, Mr. Dart called on his colleagues to settle such disputes.
He said he and his wife, Yoshiko, who has also been active in the field, "will be with you in a passionate effort to overcome the tragic fragmentation, disunity, and hostility which ... prevents us from fulfilling our historic responsibilities."
Mr. Dart is the son of the late businessman Justin W. Dart, who was an unofficial adviser to President Reagan as a member of his "kitchen cabinet" in California.
Crippled by polio at age 18, the younger Mr. Dart has often credited the vocational-rehabilitation system with "saving his life." Now 57, he has been an advocate of the rights of the disabled for nearly 30 years.
He and his wife operate an independent-living program for the disabled out of their home in Fort Davis, Tex.