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Officials strive to resolve threat to federal funds

University officials have been notified that the Health Center, the School of Law, and the regional campuses may be added to a list of institutions that will lose federal funding if the Pentagon determines that military recruiters are not receiving sufficient access to these campuses.

The controversy threatens to deliver a critical blow to University research, and to students who rely on financial aid to attend the University. Currently, nearly $50 million in federal funds is in danger, including about $2 million in student grants and scholarships. The total will jump to almost $60 million if other congressional proposals move forward.

So far, the main campus has been exempt from the threatened withdrawal of funds because a limited amount of recruiting is conducted from the ROTC Building in Storrs.

UConn administrators now believe the only recourse will be to convince state legislators to change Connecticut's laws regarding recruiting a belief shared by the state's six congressmen, who coauthored a letter sent to state legislative leaders urging such a change.

"This institution values very highly our diversity and inclusiveness. It has always supported the values articulated in state and federal civil rights laws," Chancellor Mark Emmert told the University Senate and the Graduate Student Senate during meetings held Monday. "But now, we're stuck between a congressional law and a state Supreme Court order that threatens the very existence of this University. If this comes to pass, we would be out of business.

"This issue poses a tough moral dilemma for the University," Emmert added, but one that, ultimately, is out of the hands of UConn officials. He said Connecticut is the only state in the nation that has such a court order; the decision is an internal matter at other universities. Most of those - including, recently, City College of San Francisco and three other universities in California - have reversed their policies in order to maintain vital funding and student support.

Those conflicting federal and state laws are at the heart of the problem. The majority of members of Congress want military recruiters allowed on campus and have rebuffed numerous efforts, by UConn officials and the state's congressional delegation, to gain an exception to their rules for Connecticut. And, in 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that military recruiting on public college campuses violated the state's Civil Rights Law, and barred the practice.

"It's a classic Catch-22 situation; ultimately, we cannot be in compliance with both the federal provisions and the Connecticut Supreme Court decision," said Scott Brohinsky, director of governmental relations.

Brohinsky and others have been working with state and federal officials and talking with the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union (CCLU), which brought the suit that led to the Supreme Court decision, in hopes of finding a compromise that is agreeable to all parties.

Meanwhile, Congress has become more resolute. Proposals by U.S. Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-New York, to eliminate funding from the Department of Defense (DoD), some student financial aid funding, including work-study grants and Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, and research grants from the departments of education and health and human services were enacted two years ago. If Solomon's third and fourth proposals are adopted, research grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the departments of energy and veteran's affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency would be added to the list.

Timing has also become a crucial component of the effort, Brohinsky said. In the short term, UConn officials have until September 26 to submit information to the defense department explaining what the University's current and future military recruiting practices will include. If DoD officials are not satisfied with the explanation and rule that UConn is ineligible, more than $2.4 million would immediately be revoked from the Health Center and UConn-Avery Point.

The most severe funding cutoffs are scheduled to take effect March 29, 1998, and Department of Defense officials have said it would take 45 days to restore UConn's eligibility status. This means that any changes in state legislation would have to occur before February 13, 1998 - only nine days after the next legislative session begins.

The Connecticut State University system and the state's Community-Technical Colleges are also involved and have already lost more than $200,000 in tuition assistance funding to active military personnel attending the institutions.

Richard Veilleux