IN ONE OF THOSE weak moments that bring out the worst in Congress, the House fell for an amendment the other day that would slip a quick $19.3 million in grants, loans and loan authority for bricks and mortar to two universities - one of which happens to be Georgetown University. The other happens to be Tufts, which happens to be in Massachusetts, which happens to be the home state of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. While we don't enjoy knocking a valiant fund-raising effort for a local institution of higher learning, the way this huge handout was maneuvered through the House is a lesson in how not to award federal money for education.
Fortunately, the approval in the House was only by a slim margin - the vote was 215 to 202 - and there seems to be strong opposition in the Senate on numerous solid counts. To begin with, a House Appropriations subcommittee held only a skimpy two-witness hearing on the measure, which would provide construction funds for "demonstration model academic intercultural centers." These centers are authorized under a new section of the Higher Education Act. One of them would be for the Fletcher School at Tufts and one for GU's graduate school of foreign service. As if there were some emergency about it, the money for the two centers was added not to a regular appropriations bill, but to a supplemental bill for the current fiscal year.
Quite understandably, some opponents in the House did wonder why other venerable schools weren't in the running for all this money. About the best explanation short of favoritism was something to the effect that the two schools are "recognized leaders in the field of international education" and are "ready to expand their capability," as the House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, Rep. Daniel J. Flood (D-Pa.), put it.
Sure. But over in the Senate, where an Appropriations subcommittee headed by Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) held a respectable 3 1/2-hour hearing on the measure, opponents included representatives of the American Council on Education and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, who noted that the proposed "centers" are not priority items for higher education these days.Indeed, it turns out there are about 17 good reasons for eliminating the provision, as the Senate subcommittee did.
It's noteworthy, for example, that a presidential commission even now is studying such programs, which is an arguments for looking at its findings before dishing out millions to two universities. Besides, the proposed facilities are estimated to cost $100 a square foot - rather high for projects that aren't even meant to provide for increases in enrollment.
None of this is to say that GU and Tufts won't need new federal assistance in the future for their fine academic programs. So will other distinguished institutions around the nation. But they shouldn't be getting large amounts of taxpayer's funds from the pork barrel. On Friday, when the matter is scheduled for consideration by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, we hope that the members will reinforce the conclusion of their subcommittee and continue to prevail on the Senate floor and in conference with the House.