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  • Profile of HHS Secretary Donna Shalala

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  •   Shalala: No 'New Democrat'

    By Rowland Evans and Robert Novak
    Creators Syndicate Inc.
    Friday, January 8, 1993; Page A19

    Donna Shalala's fervent though failed efforts to establish a speech code and set hiring and enrollment quotas at the University of Wisconsin do not impede her path to confirmation as secretary of health and human services but do raise questions as to what the Clinton administration is all about.

    Shalala is the farthest to the left and most controversial of all President-elect Clinton's Cabinet appointments. The university's famed Madison campus, where she is chancellor, "has become the epicenter of political correctness," according to education expert Checker Finn. Critics in the academic community label her the "queen of PC" – giving first priority to what is politically correct by liberal standards. She is a pillar in the administration's Hillary wing, succeeding her good friend Mrs. Clinton as head of the Children's Defense Fund.

    Shalala's record provides no grounds for challenging her fitness to run HHS. It does challenge the authenticity of Bill Clinton's self-portrait as a centrist Democrat turning his party's course back to the middle of the road.

    Consequently, Republicans have made her their top target in the confirmation procedure. But it won't be easy. She is widely described as a consummate politician who makes friends, not enemies. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a hero of Republican conservatives, told us that "she always has been very cooperative ... decent and pragmatic." He has been asked by Shalala to present her before the two Senate committees hearing her testimony.

    The complaint against Shalala is that she embodies two of the worst transgressions by today's liberals flying in the face of American tradition: quotas and speech control.

    "We can't provide a first-class education without women and minorities in the classrooms," Shalala has decreed. That world view was behind the Madison Plan, her strategy for "ethnic and cultural diversity." It created an undergraduate ethnic studies requirement and revised the curriculum for the sake of "understanding other cultures."

    The Madison Plan set hard targets for blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and certain Asians as both students and teachers. As a state university serving an overwhelmingly white population, the school struggled but failed to meet those goals.

    The university has had even more trouble establishing a code against "hate speech" that would punish students for uttering "racist" or "sexist" remarks to others. Shalala shrugged off concern about First Amendment rights, calling it a convenient dodge "for everyone from visiting rock stars who extol woman bashing to tenured professors who spew ethnic slurs."

    U.S. District Judge Robert Warren took a more traditional view of individual liberty in 1991, declaring the speech code unconstitutional. Shalala supported efforts to rewrite it, but the university's board of regents finally called off the project.

    Free speech at the University of Wisconsin is limited by ideology. Louis Farrakhan, the Jew-baiting black activist, has spoken there. But the university administration halted conservative Paul Weyrich's National Empowerment Television network from using the school's TV facilities by insisting on controlling the program's content.

    Shalala herself is the epitome of today's wholly politicized educator. In the 1988 presidential campaign, she signed a full-page New York Times advertisement assailing Ronald Reagan's record and affirming "America's liberal tradition." In 1991 she opposed the university regents' efforts to consider reinvestment in South Africa in view of racial progress there. In 1991 she personally lobbied the Pentagon to end the military ban on homosexuals, and joined a lawsuit for that purpose. In 1992 she commended gay and lesbian students for requesting their own university housing, while ruling it out as unconstitutional. In 1992 she helped found a new national abortion rights committee after the last Supreme Court decision.

    All those positions are within bounds of permissible behavior, and even Republicans would not try to deny Clinton the Cabinet he wants. But the coming hearings may make it a little harder for the new president to call himself a "new Democrat."

    © Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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