State Journal: Controversial candidate; No exit; 'Control' critique

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As president of Boston University, John R. Silber acquired a national reputation for bluntly expressing controversial views.

That style is also in evidence as Mr. Silber seeks the Democratic nomination for Governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Silber first drew the wrath of critics last month when he said the Bay State's high level of social services had made it a "welfare magnet" for the poor.

Soon after, Mr. Silber responded to a question from a group of Milton high-school teachers about the increasing use of alcohol among students.

"You can live with alcohol abuse and still achieve at a high level,'' Mr. Silber said, arguing that the disease was not as socially harmful as the use of illegal drugs.

The comments were criticized by teachers' union officials and others, who said that they downplayed the damage caused by alcoholism.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Gerald E. Hoeltzel of Oklahoma is running for the state Senate this fall, and David L. Fisher--who currently heads the education department's accreditation division--wants to replace him as state chief.

Concerned that Mr. Fisher's campaign for the elective post might raise conflict-of-interest issues, Mr. Hoeltzel recently developed guidelines for ensuring a strict separation of Mr. Fisher's official and political activities.

The rules require that Mr. Fisher not leave the building in which his office is located between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.

Mr. Fisher says he has no problem with the restriction.

"I'm not uncomfortable with it at all," he said. "I just appreciate all the attention."

Social and medical studies frequently use a "control" group of clients or patients who do not receive the service or treatment being studied in order to compare its effectiveness among those who do.

So when Florida officials designed a study of the value of the state's welfare-to-work program, they directed that education, training, and other services be withheld from a control group of the poor.

Under the evaluation, which began in the fall, some 5,500 lottery-selected welfare recipients have been denied support services.

The policy has outraged some legislators, who say it mistreats people in pursuit of a worthless statistic.

"We don't need to spend millions to see what happens to people if they don't get social services," Representative Ben Graber said. "We can see those results every day in our streets."--hd

Vol. 09, Issue 20

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