While the nation's basketball fans were watching Georgetown University try for a second straight NCAA title, the eyes of Georgetown's president, the Rev. Timothy S. Healy, were focused on a less glamorous sight.
When I saw him in his office recently, he was poring over a report from a university vice president on the impact of President Reagan's proposed reductions in student aid. It was a lot less pretty than a slam dunk by Pat Georgetown because, under Father Healy, it has made a special effort to recruit not just basketball players, but academically gifted students from the ghettos, who can benefit from its first-class education.
I had already heard the views of Healy's friend, Joseph S. Murphy, the chancellor of the City University of New York. CUNY has the largest black and Hispanic student body in the world, and 85 percent of its students come from families in which neither parent graduated from college.
Murphy, who minces no words, said the administration aid cutbacks are -- in his view -- part of a strategy to "rigidify the class structure of America," by closing down the main channel to middle- class jobs for poor youths and forcing them to compete for available low-wage jobs with little future.
That is one view. But with Georgetown on the country's mind, I wanted to know how the administration's proposals would affect Healy's college. This is what I found out: half of Georgetown's degree candidates -- 5,599 of 11,187 -- this year received financial aid. That aid totaled $52 million. If the Reagan cuts had been in effect, the university thinks 4,337 of the aid students -- 77 percent -- would have lost $14.2 million, an average of $3,274 each.
Some of the loss might have been made up by unsubsidized loans. But a first-year undergraduate or graduate student who borrowed from the bank to make up for the loss of the government-guaranteed loan would -- if accepted as a good credit risk -- pay back 68 percent more over 10 years than under the old program.
I asked Healy if it were not true, as the administration maintains, that Georgetown and other well- endowed institutions could do more to help their own. "In 1975," he said, "financial aid was 7 percent of our budget; in 1980, it was 12 percent; this year, it's 15 percent. It's doubled in a decade. This year, we raised tuition $800 and 27 percent of that increase is earmarked for student assistance. But there is no way we can fill a $22 million gap."
I asked Healy for his best judgment on the effect the Reagan proposals would have on Georgetown.
"Georgetown would not go out of business," he said, "but you would destroy a mix that's profoundly healthy for this republic. . . . We would still be able to handle some por kids -- if they applied -- but there would be a huge gap between them and the rich kids whose family paid their way. If you cut $22 million out of the grants and loans that are available, you would just liquidate the middle-class kid who's bright enough to come to Georgetown but who needs massive help."
Could they make it by working? Healy said too many of his students were already carrying too much of an outside workload. A survey in 1983 found half the underclassmen and even more of the juniors and seniors were spending from 10 to 30 hours a week in jobs. It is not realistic to think they can earn enough to make up the average loss of $3,200 and still have time or energy for education.
Then Healy said: "This administration forgets that the element of choice for poor kids is a guarantor of the reality of education for all the rich ones. It's part of the education of the rich that they go to school with kids who aren't as rich as they are.
"That didn't happen when I was a kid. (He is 62.) But American colleges learned that lesson. And now more black kids are getting into more selective colleges, and we're launching a black middle class. There's been real progress there.
"But look what they are proposing to do. They would limit the assistance to any kid -- no matter how poor -- to $4,000. They tell them to borrow the rest. The cabdriver in this city isn't going to do that. . . . That's half his take-home pay. That's crazy.
"I'll tell you what will happen; it's already happened. Seven years ago, 32 percent of the cohort of black kids went to college. It's down to 27 percent this year. And all of this publicity about student aid cuts will lower it further.
"Kids get the idea, particularly when theyre not well guided, that the administration has already decided this, and it's done already -- that where there was financial aid available, there isn't going to be any. So they don't apply."
And then he said: "If we lose this battle to educate black kids, then we are setting up for your grandchildren a permanent underclass of uneducated incompetents who cannot cope with the 20th century. We're building a real Orwellian horror."
That is why the president of Georgetown had his mind on something other than a basketball game. Maybe we should too.