In the wake of Yale’s decision to reimburse students for aid lost under the federal Higher Education Act, Yale College Council Rep. Andrew Allison ’04 debated U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., on a CNBC segment last night.
The “Drug Free Student” provision of the Higher Education Act prohibits students who have been convicted of a drug-related crime from receiving federal financial aid for college.
Yale entered the forefront of the national debate when it joined Swarthmore College and a handful of other schools as the only institutions to agree to reimburse students for any aid lost under that provision, a policy Barr said he opposes.
The policy was first reported Friday by the Yale Daily News, and subsequently by the Hartford Courant and The Associated Press early this week.
Allison, who wrote the YCC resolution supporting the University’s reimbursement of funds and lobbied to gain administrative and student support, said he soon began to receive phone calls from national media organizations asking for interviews and comment.
CNBC contacted Allison yesterday morning asking him to appear on the show last night. Allison, who said he was initially told simply that there would also be a representative from “the opposition,” said he was surprised to learn he would be arguing against Barr.
Allison said he and the YCC were just trying to get the message out to the rest of the country in any way possible.
“It was a matter of alerting the public to these issues,” Allison said. “I didn’t expect to change — Barr’s politics.”
Asked during the interview if Yale was undercutting the federal law, Barr responded that Yale was going even further.
“They’re undercutting the entire value system on which this country is based,” Barr said. “We value and reward good behavior.”
“What Yale is doing is rewarding people for using drugs,” Barr continued. “I don’t think that’s the right message to send from what used to be one of our fine academic institutions.”
Allison, however, responded to Barr’s criticisms by arguing that education was the way to help rehabilitate convicted offenders.
“We value education, and education as a means to better behavior,” he said.
Allison pointed out what he said was the inherent economic discrimination of making drug offenders ineligible for financial aid. A clause of the federal act allows students to requalify for aid if they successfully complete a drug rehabilitation program. But public rehab programs often have long waiting lists and private ones can be quite expensive, Allison said.
“If we’re using education to fight the drug war, we should actually educate,” Allison said.
Allison said that because Yale is financially capable of responding to the legislation it has a responsibility to the rest of the nation to do so. Other schools without as much financial aid money can only hope for a repeal of the legislation, he said.
“We knew that if Yale were to adopt this policy it would mean more to the rest of the country than to Yale,” he said. “Yale would take a leadership role. But I don’t think we expected it to hit this big,” said Allison, who had been scheduled to appear on CNN this morning before that interview was postponed.
The New York Times, Fox News and Crossfire have also picked up the story, Allison said.
Yale President Richard Levin said he was surprised at the national media attention.
“I didn’t expect this issue to be a major national issue,” Levin said. “But I think we just took an action that we felt was consistent with our principle of providing full need-based financial aid to our students.”