Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, exhorting new George Washington University freshmen to "think more with your brains and less with your spleens," yesterday called for greater cooperation between universities in the District and the city's public schools.
Bell, who received an honorary doctorate in public service from the university yesterday, urged nearly 500 members of the school's incoming freshman class to create a "learning society . . . of thoughtful, conscientious and well-informed participants."
"In this city where partisan rhetoric abounds," Bell said, "where special interest groups sway secret decisions and where truth is almost always uttered in a partially slanted half, we have a higher than usual need for complete intellectual integrity on this university."
Bell made his remarks at the university's third annual fall convocation, a 90-minute ceremony that interrupted a day-long festival to acquaint nearly 1,000 freshmen with the 162-year-old university.
Wearing a pie-shaped mortarboard and a sky-blue velvet sash, Bell also called on GWU's faculty and students to be "of more assistance to the public schools of our nation's capital."
The District school system, with a 95 percent minority enrollment and 26 percent of its students living in poverty, "has unique problems but unusual opportunities to be a leader among the great city school systems of the nation," Bell said.
He urged the formation of a coalition of D.C. universities to "work together as partners in promoting education excellence with the D.C. schools."
Later, in an interview, Bell said such a coalition had been under study by Education Department staff for some time. Although he offered no specifics, Bell said a coalition could help bridge "the psychological distance" between universities and public secondary schools.
Bell also said he "appreciated" GWU President Lloyd H. Elliott's call for the distribution of federal student loans solely on the basis of a student's financial need. "I don't think we should subsidize a person's education if he doesn't need it," Bell said in the interview.
He noted that legislation to renew educational loans is scheduled for debate in Congress within a year.
In his speech, Bell invoked the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and the comic strip "Peanuts" and quoted George Washington three times, saying the president's dream of a national university in the District was "his obsession in some ways."
"You may not be the national university," Bell told the crowd, "but the reach of this institution has been nationwide, even worldwide."