Archive for 2003

Saddam in Court: Who's on Trial?

With Saddam in U.S. hands, thoughts turn to his future trial. Various pundits have claimed that it won’t be enough to examine Saddam’s crimes. It will also be necessary to probe U.S. and Western support for his regime, during the decade of the Iran-Iraq war and the lead-up to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The late Elie Kedourie, historian and political theorist at the London School of Economics, put the issue in just the right perspective, in an interview granted in June 1992. (This was less than three weeks before his untimely passing.) Kedourie, it will be recalled, was a native of Baghdad, and an acute observer of Iraq’s troubled history. The interviewer told him that a Paris-based scholar had declared Saddam to be a “creature of the West.” Kedourie’s reply:

I do not understand what he means by that. If he means that it was Western governments that put him in power, then that is not true. If he means that from 1980 to 1990 the American and French governments and German firms did their best to help him, this is perfectly true. But you have to look at what their intentions were….The Americans believed, mistakenly I think, that if they did not do something in order to stop Khomeini, he would sweep over the whole of the Middle East. I think there was little prospect of that, but that is what they believed and therefore they chose to support Saddam. Again, within its own terms it was a rational if mistaken calculation. It was a terrible mistake, which lay at the back of the invasion of Kuwait and the war that followed, which I consider an unnecessary war. It was the result of policies that the Americans had followed vis-à-vis Saddam for ten years and that made him think that he could invade Kuwait with impunity.

A calculation went wrong. But I do not think that there was anything else there. Saddam is not a creature of the West. He is not a creature of anybody.

There are two crucial points here. First, Kedourie knew far too much about Iraq to regard Saddam as the West’s creation. He understood precisely which tectonic forces, by their immense internal pressures, had combined to produce him.

Second, Kedourie did not rail against the United States for its best-guess policies of the 1980s. He regarded the U.S. decision to back Saddam against Iran as a mistake and a miscalculation. But as a thinking historian, who never stopped reading in diplomatic archives, Kedourie thought it perfectly legitimate for states to calculate and act on self-interest. (This was always preferable to action the name of ideology. Ideological states, Kedourie believed, were intrinsically dangerous to their peoples and their neighbors.) Kedourie also knew and expected that states, working in a fog of partial knowledge, were bound to make mistakes in pursuing their interests. He never set himself up in Olympian judgment of policymakers for these sorts of errors.

But while he could understand errors of calculation, he could not pardon failures of will. For Kedourie, support for Saddam before 1990 was an error, but the decision not to remove him in 1991 was a failure. U.S. leaders lacked the will to act in pursuit of the U.S. national interest, and so fell down on their sworn duty. In a May 1991 lecture, Kedourie said this:

The American campaign stopped in its tracks by order of the president. Given this aggression by Iraq, and given that Iraq had to be stopped, one would have thought that it would be quite meaningless simply to liberate Kuwait and leave untouched the structures of the Baathist regime which had organized and committed the aggression. Iraq is a very populous and a rich country. If the regime remains in place, there is no way it can be prevented from reestablishing itself and acquiring new supplies of weapons of all kinds….It may not be possible next time around to organize an expedition of half a million troops and an armada in order to deal with this recurrent situation. So as things look to me now, the aftermath of the Gulf war seems a tremendous failure for the U.S.

As usual, Kedourie shows us the way. Saddam was no one’s creature. It would be an affront to justice to diminish Saddam’s criminal culpability by invoking U.S. policy mistakes, however egregious. Mistakes are not crimes.

The decision that left Saddam in power in 1991 was a monumental failure, and one that history has already judged severely. But at least credit those who did organize an expedition and an armada in 2003, and who did their duty despite the criticism of feckless “allies” and the absence of “international legitimacy.” Some of those who launched this expedition were party to the previous mistake and the earlier failure. By their actions this year, they have balanced the books—and then some.

U. of California's Deans Don't Quite Get It

This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle runs an op-ed on H.R. 3077 by two heavy-hitters in the University of California system: Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost and dean of the UCLA International Institute, and David Leonard, dean of International and Area Studies at Berkeley. It’s the most intelligent thing that academics have produced so far in response to the bill. They don’t make the absurd claim that the Title VI advisory board would interfere in curriculum, and they accept the idea of a board in principle. But they do propose a change in the board’s composition. Unfortunately, this proposal rests on yet another misreading of the bill.

This is what they write:

The legislation dictates that the [seven-member] advisory board include two members from national security agencies, such as the CIA and the Department of Defense….Why should the national security agencies be singled out above other organizations concerned with international studies and foreign language education?

If any federal agency should be given privileged representation on the board, it is the Department of State. With decades of experience in educational and cultural exchange such as the Fulbright program, the State Department is best suited to help promote international higher education—particularly given the importance of fostering mutual understanding in the post-Sept. 11 world.

How have Professors Garrett and Leonard misread the bill? The two advisory board members who would represent government (and who would be appointed by the Secretary of Education) would not be appointed “from national security agencies.” Rather, they would be appointed from “agencies with national security responsibilities”—that’s the exact language of the bill.

What is an agency with national security responsibilities? Look at the definition used for the purposes of another government-supported program, the National Security Education Program (NSEP), which funds scholarships for students who commit themselves to work in just these agencies. That definition includes these executive departments: the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury—and, yes, the Department of State. All of these departments are deemed to have “national security responsibilities.”

I agree with Professors Garrett and Leonard that there are no grounds to privilege the Department of Defense and the CIA over the Department of State, and the bill doesn’t do that. I hope they would agree that there is also no reason to exclude defense and intelligence agencies in appointments to the board, or to marginalize one department by privileging another. After all, these departments are part of one government, and all of them have needs in the field of international relations.

Congress must be wary lest it lend its hand to an academic boycott of the country’s intelligence and defense agencies, by excluding their representatives from the board. In the present bill, the Secretary of Education is given full discretion to make these two appointments, from whichever agency he or she sees fit. There is no credible reason to limit that discretion. The language of the bill on this point is perfect just as it is.

Professors Garrett and Leonard have one more complaint:

We are further concerned by the proposal that the board be given unusually broad powers to investigate grantee activities, by drawing on the full information available in all government agencies—including intelligence agencies. Because the activities of the Title VI programs are public, why should it be necessary to consult intelligence files to determine the range of the views they present?

This is a reference to a boiler-plate provision of the bill, which gives the advisory board the authority to secure from anywhere in government the information it needs to make its recommendations. That authority is essential, and it has nothing to do with investigating anyone’s views.

For example, one of the nagging questions about the Title VI program is how many of its beneficiaries go into government service. In April of last year, the president of the American Council on Education, David Ward, testified in support of Title VI before Congress, and made this claim:

Many of the graduates who benefited from these programs have gone on to serve in key U.S. government positions… Anecdotal (because the data are classified) evidence suggests that most career security foreign language and area specialists in agencies such as CIA and DIA were trained at institutions with Title VI centers. A local newspaper, for example, recently printed a picture of an intelligence officer in Afghanistan who had received language training at a Title VI center.

When Dr. Ward made this claim, I myself contested aspects of it, again on the basis of anecdotal evidence. But why should a government advisory board, presumably including two government officials, be limited to anecdotal evidence? Only agencies of government can tell the advisory board whether they benefit from the program in the way Dr. Ward claims they do.

So it’s perfectly proper that the law require those agencies to cooperate with the board in its work. The board’s recommendations on the effectiveness of Title VI—which spends $100 million of taxpayers’ money a year—should be grounded in fact and not anecdotes, especially when some of the facts are just waiting to be harvested in Washington.

Thanks to Professors Garrett and Leonard, the debate about H.R. 3077 in academe has moved forward. Yet they still don’t adequately grasp all aspects of the bill’s language and intent. It’s odd that Washington should have to educate the academy in the precise reading of a text. Call it an education.

Berkeley addendum. Over at Berkeley, the head of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Professor Nezar AlSayyad, has called H.R. 3077 “an attempt to silence those who criticize the government.” He has also announced that his center, which now receives a hefty Title VI subsidy, will not apply for funding if the bill is passed. This, from a man whose main claim to administrative fame is the establishment of an Arab studies program named after the Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan, pumped up with $5 million from the Prince Sultan Charity Foundation. One wonders how much criticism of the Saudi government emerges from Berkeley’s center.

I’m going to hold Professor AlSayyad to his word. Let Berkeley’s Middle East center not apply. It will be one less application that has to be read and processed in Washington.

Yale Daily News Flunks Verbal

As a Princetonian, my expectations from Yale have never been very high. But I always assumed that the best of its students—or at least those students who edit the Yale Daily News—could read a text in English. This morning, even that assumption was shaken.

I refer to an editorial in today’s edition, under the headline: “Bill’s ‘Advisory Board’ is Cause for Concern.” The reference is to the International Studies in Higher Education Act, or H.R. 3077. (Full text here.) The bill would continue long-standing federal subsidies for area studies in universities. It also would establish a board to advise the Department of Education and Congress on how to improve supported programs. When the bill was in committee in the House of Representatives, academics expressed concern that the proposed board could go beyond general priorities, to delve into the curricula of individual programs. So the bill was modified to include this provision:

Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.

By any objective reading, that passage is unequivocal—indeed, it was probably dictated by the higher education lobby—and it trumps every other provision of the bill. It manifestly bars the board from mandating, directing, or controlling university curricula. That’s one reason the bill received unanimous bipartisan support in the House, whence it has been sent to the Senate.

Yet you won’t know that this safeguard even exists, if you rely on today’s Yale Daily News. It says this about the purpose of the board:

The act would create a federal advisory committee to oversee the curricula of foreign language and area studies programs that receive government funding. The Yale Center for International and Area Studies, which receives more than $5 million of federal funding annually, would be subject to any such curricular review….Even if the Bush administration is well-behaved, such input into curricula opens the door to dangerous behavior in the future.

“Oversee curricula”? “Curricular review”? “Input into curricula”? Do the editors of the Yale Daily News suffer from a collective reading disability? This spin on the bill is so at odds with its language that it leaves you wondering about the basic comprehension skills of the Yale editors. This doubt is reinforced by an earlier piece contributed by one of the newspaper’s regular columnists, containing this astonishing passage:

According to the language of the bill, professors whose ideological principles may not support U.S. practices abroad can have their appointments terminated, any part of a course’s curriculum containing criticisms of U.S. foreign policy can be censored, and any course deemed entirely anti-American can be barred from ever being taught.

When I first read this passage—written by a Yale senior—my jaw dropped. There is nothing whatsoever in the language of the bill to support a single one of these assertions. In the real world, this sort of thing—making it up—will get you failed out of journalism school, or fired by your newspaper.

But the explanation of poor comprehension is probably too simple, so let me offer a more sinister one. In the very first news story about the bill in the Yale Daily News, it was reported that some Yale professors opposed it. The university’s vice president for federal relations, Richard Jacobs, told the newspaper that Yale had already started to lobby key senators, including Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.-Conn.), against parts of the bill. Dodd sits on the Senate committee that has received the bill from the House (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, or HELP).

In other words, even before the Yale Daily News ran its first story, the Yale administration had opened a backstairs campaign against the bill. So the newspaper is dutifully following the lead of the administration and faculty. It reminds me of how Pravda picked up signals from the Politburo and amplified them—including the crude falsehoods.

So Yale is running a deliberately misleading campaign, relying on distortions, incitement, and the pliant editors of the campus newspaper, in order to leverage Sen. Dodd into opposing the bill. Why? Look at the composition of the HELP committee on which Sen. Dodd sits. Nearly all of the Republicans and most of the Democrats come from states whose institutions get little or no federal money for Middle Eastern studies, and not much more for area studies. Sen. Dodd is one of the few committee members who has constituents who receive the subsidy. And so Yale has assumed the responsibility of running a campaign directed at Sen. Dodd, on behalf of the entire area studies crowd.

What can you do to counter the lobbying efforts of big academe? If you are a resident of Connecticut, it’s easy: click here for a form and write to Sen. Dodd. Tell him that you fully support H.R. 3077 and the advisory board it would establish. Tell him that you are appalled by the deliberate distortion of the bill at the hands of its critics, especially at Yale. Tell him that the bill’s smooth passage is the least Congress can do to assure that this subsidy serves some national purpose at a moment of national need. For more arguments for the bill, read this address I gave two weeks ago, and follow the links from its right-hand panel.

If you’re not a resident of Connecticut, you can have just as much effect by writing the same things to Sen. Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.), chair of the HELP committee. Click here for a form or write directly to Also check this list of HELP committee members, to see if one of your senators is on it, and write to that senator, with a copy to Sen. Gregg.

Yale Library Joins Intifada? While I am indulging my bias against Yale, I wonder why Palestinian propaganda posters are featured at the website of the library’s Near East Collection. Is it because the posters are such outstanding and rare holdings? (The stuff looks pretty commonplace to me.) Or is it because of the politics of the collection’s curator and chief faculty adviser, both of whom signed the extremist Yale divestment petition against Israel? Just wondering.

Nonsense on Title VI in the L.A. Times

The International Studies in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3077) would create an advisory board for Title VI, the federal subsidy program for area (and Middle Eastern) studies in universities. As I’ve argued before, such a board is the very least Congress can do to assure some return on the taxpayers’ investment in these programs. I spoke in defense of the bill on a panel in Washington on November 20, and I post my remarks here. In my address, I dispel some of the way-out notions about the legislation now being propagated on campuses.

Now the issue has cropped up in the national press, in the form of an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by one Paula R. Newberg, identified as an “independent consultant.” The piece is a slick and evasive advertisement for Title VI, the sort that is regularly churned out by the higher education lobby and Saudi ARAMCO. Its bottom line: a board would “seriously diminish” the “capacity of the U.S. to be a responsible world actor.” To make that argument, you have to misrepresent Title VI and H.R. 3077. Our “independent consultant” does this with a lobbyist’s panache for half-truths, falsehoods, and omissions.

So after you’ve read the op-ed, here are the four grievous sins committed by its author.

1. Newberg opens by noting that “for two years, Congress has rightly insisted that the United States needs better foreign intelligence.” True. “One way to obtain it is to train more experts in foreign languages.” True. H.R. 3077, she writes, is “an assault on the very programs that produce these professionals.”

False, because these programs do not produce those professionals. The great bulk of the money goes to fellowships for doctoral students. When The Chronicle of Higher Education spoke to a dozen job-hunting Ph.D.s in Middle Eastern studies in the spring of 2002, not one expressed any interest in government employment. “Academics just aren’t biting,” said one job candidate, as quoted by the Chronicle. “I don’t think running around chasing terrorists is the solution to this problem. Academics have a belief in the power of education to effect change.” The real intelligence professionals—the few men and women who solve problems when the “power of education” fails—are produced elsewhere.

Title VI programs have also shifted their emphasis away from languages. A government-contracted report on Title VI, published in 2000, admitted as much: “Over the years, the original focus on language has been replaced with a much broader mandate for area, international, and international business studies. … functional linguistic competence in the graduates of the nation’s colleges and universities has tended to diminish.” Title VI is failing at precisely the mission Newberg thinks it should fulfill, a fact concealed from the public precisely because there is no board to measure the program against the intent of Congress.

2. Newberg writes that Title VI has produced international knowledge, although “these centers have endured funding cuts.”

False again. As far as I can recall, funding for Title VI over the past decade has never been cut even once. The appropriation has grown every year. More to the point, Title VI received a massive post-9/11 windfall on January 10, 2002, when President George W. Bush approved Congress’s authorization of a 26 percent increase (over $20 million a year) for the program, to meet an “urgent need.” Since 2000, federal funding for area studies centers at universities has ballooned by fifty percent, and funding for fellowships has doubled. The universities are now flush with taxpayers’ money, appropriated on a renewed promise that this will enhance national security. There are more federally-subsidized Middle East centers right now that at any time in America’s history. Is it too much money? Too little? Just the right amount? Maybe that money should go to another higher education program? We’ll never know, unless we have a board with appointees well-positioned to define U.S. needs, and determine whether the program is meeting them.

3. Newberg then casts H.R. 3077 as an attempt by interested parties to foist their Middle East views on academics. For this reason, a board “is utterly impractical, given the polarization of Middle East politics…[N]o politically appointed advisory board is likely to bridge these differences any more than the U.S. has reconciled competing visions of Middle East peace.”

Once more, false. Far from being “utterly impractical,” boards supervise every other comparable federal program. The sister program of Title VI, the Fulbright program, is the mainstay of foreign research for U.S. academics. It has a 12-member board, all of them presidential appointees. The U.S. Institute of Peace has a board of presidential appointees, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has one too. These boards are supervisory, not advisory—they have more powers than the proposed Title VI board. All three support advanced research in international affairs, including the Middle East. Yet they somehow manage to “bridge differences.” The real question is why Title VI, of all these programs, should be exempt from having a board. Of course, you would never know that from Newberg, who forgets to tell you just what an administrative anomaly Title VI has become.

4. Newberg praises Title VI for having introduced thousands of Americans to foreign societies and cultures. If she has a reservation, it is that “some scholars have used this platform to underscore distinctively, occasionally parochial, American views.”

Is this a misprint? It seems to me this should read: “Some scholars have used this platform to underscore distinctively, occasionally parochial, anti-American views.” There is no more systematic abuse of Title VI than the exploitation of taxpayers’ money by professorial activists to fund propagandistic “outreach” activities. All of the instances known to me involve totally one-sided teachers’ seminars and study kits that rail against U.S. policy. Do you think your tax dollars should fund a “critical reader” on 9/11 for K-12 teachers, in which every single reading bashes the United States? Do you think federal subsidies should fund a seminar on the Iraq war for K-12 teachers, addressed by five “anti-war” activists, and not a single supporter of U.S. policy? Professors are sovereign in the classroom, but “outreach” is a federally-mandated activity to reach non-students. As part of the contract, universities undertake to spread knowledge, not propaganda. What is absolutely clear, given that these abuses have continued even as Title VI has come under fire, is that only a board can stop “outreach” outrages.

In sum, the Los Angeles Times has run an op-ed completely detached from reality on campus, which is not surprising, since its author-consultant has no connection to campus. You would think that with 120 subsidized area centers across the country, each one with a director and faculty, a Title VI beneficiary could be found to argue the case against H.R. 3077. But I suppose any one of them would be embarrassed to make the arguments Newberg makes, in the way she makes them—because they are false. But that’s what consultants are for, isn’t it?

L.A. Times Follow-up. Robert Satloff, who was quoted out of context in Newberg’s piece, wrote a letter to the paper, and it has been published. Satloff, after taking the op-ed to task for distorting the bill, adds this:

As a recipient of generous Title VI grants for my own graduate education, I know the value of such funding. I also know how many universities and area-study programs have abused it for purposes far from the noble one for which it was intended, i.e., to advance language proficiency, academic expertise and community awareness of foreign policy issues in the service of U.S. national security interests. The sole purpose of this proposed board is to advise the Department of Education, whose legal responsibility to perform oversight of Title VI recipients remains unchanged by this bill. Since no one compels universities to ask for taxpayer dollars to fund their area-study programs, a little scrutiny over how that money is spent is not too much to ask. That’s not a liberal or conservative idea; it’s a reflection of traditional American fair play.

Well put.

Can Congress Fix Middle Eastern Studies?

An address delivered by Martin Kramer on a panel entitled “Can Congress Fix Middle Eastern Studies?” at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 20, 2003. Posted retroactively at Sandbox.

A meeting on Middle Eastern studies is becoming an annual event here at The Washington Institute. I spoke alone on this podium two years ago, when I launched my book, Ivory Towers on Sand. I was joined last year by Professor Lisa Anderson, then-president of the Middle East Studies Association, for a very interesting session. And I’m pleased to be joined this afternoon by Dr. Stanley Kurtz, who’s had such a profound impact on the public debate. I am grateful for the podium, because in the grand scheme of things, the state of Middle Eastern studies isn’t exactly at the top of the priority list at The Washington Institute. And on legislative questions, the Institute has no position and cannot have one by its mandate. So the Institute is basically indulging me as its guest, and I am grateful for that indulgence.

When I launched my book, and later when I stood here with Professor Anderson, I gave my analysis of the state of the field, and my sense of where it was headed. I could say still more today. But over the past six months, the debate about Middle Eastern studies has taken an interesting turn. It has moved from faculty lounges into legislative chambers. By a process that I don’t pretend to fully understand, I saw the call for Title VI reform I made in my book blossom into a full-fledged piece of legislation, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, or H.R. 3077.

We now have before us a detailed piece of legislation, which has already gone rather far, and which is part of the overall reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, of which Title VI is a part. The bill passed in the House of Representatives unanimously last month. Now it’s crossed over to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. All along the way, adjustments were made in the language of the bill, so as to assure bipartisan support.

Title VI: Semi-Entitlement

I’ll come to my take on the bill in a moment. But let me first briefly recap what Title VI does. Title VI is a program of federal subsidies for area studies in higher education. Its vintage is Cold War: back in 1958, the United States embarked on a crash program to beef up foreign area studies in the universities, to meet the Soviet threat.

Since that time, the government has subsidized area studies in universities, with two emphases: First, the maintenance of National Resource Centers for the study of various world areas. These centers funnel their subsidies into public outreach, libraries, conferences, language teaching, and other projects. The second purpose has been graduate fellowships, now called FLAS fellowships, an acronym for Foreign Language and Area Studies. It’s important to remember that most programs in area studies aren’t Title VI stipendiaries. But most of the serious graduate education takes place in Title VI centers. In Middle Eastern studies, probably about 70 percent of Ph.D.s are earned in institutions with Middle East centers.

The program has seen ups and downs over the decades. In the 1980s, it pretty much stabilized as a semi-entitlement, administered with a light hand by the Department of Education. There was no great desire to put more money into it, but no taste for noisy battles with professors to cut it back. The program has been run pretty much by and for those professors: grantees are selected by peer review, and are chosen on the basis of whatever criteria have been defined as excellence by academic fad and fashion. In recent years, when government wanted to meet manpower needs out of academe, it tended to create alternative programs rather than add to Title VI. The prime examples are the National Security Education Program, and its offshoot, the National Flagship Language Initiative.

So it was until 9/11. When the Twin Towers came down and the Pentagon burned, the higher education lobby sensed an opportunity. In the appropriations panic that followed 9/11, the lobby promised that more money for Title VI would pay off in more security for the United States. That persuaded Congress to increase Title VI funding by 26 percent, or $20 million, the largest single-year increase in the program’s history. As a result, the number of National Resource Centers has increased, and the number of graduate students on FLAS fellowships for the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, is being doubled, from 200 to 400.

Peer Purge

Now 9/11, as I haven’t tired of repeating, should have been the occasion for some very deep soul-searching in Middle Eastern studies. On a whole range of subjects, from Islamism to civil society, the academic consensus had gotten it all wrong, or mostly wrong. It was wrong about Islamism moving in an ever-more-benign trajectory, and it was wrong about civil society advancing at the expense of the state.

But it wasn’t just that the academics were wrong. They had also managed to silence people who dissented from the consensus, by a process that can only be described as peer purge. Guidance was provided by Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which set a new standard for scholarship: not proficiency but sympathy. His ideas rode the tide of radical third worldists who came through Ph.D. programs in the 1970s. Once esconced in the field, they proceeded to shut it off—from dissent, from the public, and from Washington. It was a great shake-out, and it left Middle Eastern studies narrow, intolerant, and shuttered.

9/11 rocked this establishment to its core, because sympathy and apology for Islamist rage were its orthodoxies. Islamists should be heeded, they announced, because they really only want what we want: better schools, cleaner streets, more accountability. After 9/11, it became painfully apparent that this underestimated, by a very great margin, the scope of Islamist aspirations. It was a tremendous failing, and one that should have prompted a wrenching debate.

But that debate was nipped in the bud by the 9/11 windfall. Who dared to rethink out loud when the public purse was finally being opened wide? And when that purse did disgorge millions of more dollars, the radical mandarins could say: “You see, we bite their hand, and yet they feed us.”

Reading the Bill

Apparently, they spoke too soon. Our elected representatives do want to put more resources into area studies. But they want to change the terms of the contract, in the hope of getting a better return on investment. That’s the purpose of the International Studies in Higher Education Act, on whose principle features I’d like to dwell.

The bill begins by citing 9/11, and establishing this premise: “Homeland security and effective U.S. engagement abroad depend upon an increased number of Americans who have received [academic] training and are willing to serve their nation.” This and other language in the bill suggests that it isn’t enough for Title VI to mint Ph.D.s for the academic job market. There are other manpower needs, and the bill implies that grantees must help to meet them, if their subsidies are to be justified.

The bill would also establish an independent International Higher Education Advisory Board, to advise the Secretary of Education and Congress on how Title VI might best meet national needs. The board has seven members; two appointed by the speaker of the House, two by the president pro tem of the Senate, and three by the Secretary of Education. Two of the Secretary’s appointees must represent government agencies with national security responsibilities. The board will meet once a year; it’s authorized to monitor those activities supported by Title VI; it can commission research on the program’s impact; and it must hold a public hearing before making a recommendation.

When you think about it, it’s an anomaly that Title VI doesn’t have a board. Every federal program for higher education has one. The sister program of Title VI is the Fulbright program, which sends American academics overseas for teaching and research, and brings foreign academics over here. In budgetary terms, it’s about the same size as Title VI—upwards of $100 million. Fulbright has a 12-member board, all presidential appointees, who meet four times a year. If you were establishing Title VI today, you wouldn’t think to do it without a board.

One of the recurring phrases in the legislation is that programs supported by Title VI should “reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views” on world affairs. This is invoked specifically in regards to outreach (which I’ll mention in a moment), but also other supported programs. This is new language, and it is meant to signal that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used for activities that reflect limited perspectives and a narrow range of views.

Finally, note the language about offering all agencies of government an equal shot with other employers at on-campus recruitment.

Campus Myth, Washington Reality

So much for the bill’s language. Now a word about what it won’t do and what it will do.

First, what it won’t do. It won’t monitor curriculum, because day-to-day teaching isn’t a Title VI-supported activity. And it won’t have any authority to pronounce about curriculum. I turn your attention to this provision: “Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the International Advisory Board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.”

Now most of the campus critics of the bill have had an extremely difficult time reading and understanding this passage, which is remarkable considering the fact that they are all Ph.D.s and make their livings interpreting texts. Despite this, they’ve done exactly what the bill tells the board it can’t do: they’ve construed its provisions as a license to interfere with curriculum. Here is a quote from a political science professor in the Yale Daily News: “People from outside the academic world—people from the intelligence community—telling what can go on in a classroom, that’s where it gets scary.” Here’s a UCLA professor of Arabic literature, quoted in the Daily Bruin: “It’s censorship. We will be subject to review from a committee of nonacademics. They will be judging curriculum on the basis of political expediency.” Here is a professor of Arabic literature at the University of Chicago, in an article in the Chicago Maroon: “Universities will never accept supervision of the content of their courses. If they do so, they will stop being universities.” (Perhaps these professors would have better understood the language of the bill if it had been in Arabic.)

I strongly suspect that this misreading isn’t just an inability to understand a text in plain English. (Although, as you may know, to the post-modern interpreter, any text is open to infinite interpretations. If all our laws were read like some academics read literature, we would live in a state of nature.) I think the misreading is wilful and deliberate, and has to do with their desire to turn Title VI into an unencumbered entitlement. For that purpose, they claim that the board will intrude on their classroom teaching and their syllabi, and infringe on their academic freedom. So let me read that passage one more time: “Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the International Advisory Board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.” No safeguard could be more decisively worded than this one. It trumps every other provision of the bill. The only way to improve upon it in the legislation, would simply be to repeat it twice.

The board also won’t encroach on a university’s internal procedures in hiring and promoting faculty. Remember that Title VI doesn’t pay any faculty salaries, so faculty matters are completely outside the board’s purview.

In a bizarre twist, some critics have said that the provision for “diversity of perspectives and full range of views” will somehow silence critics of U.S. policy, or the Iraq war. I say bizarre, because academics are supposed to be champions of diversity, and a “full range of views” perforce includes every view and excludes none. In fact, no one knows how the board will interpret this in practice, and it may end up just being one of those pious admonitions that crop up in legislative language. But at least it reminds academe of its obligation to keep the marketplace of ideas open.

So what will the bill do?

It will establish a forum in which to renegotiate the contract between elected government and academe in international affairs. The bill envisions a board composed of people with a range of expertise. It’s not hard to imagine one composed of distinguished university administrators, former diplomats, publicly-acclaimed scholars and writers on international affairs, along with representatives of those agencies of government that need foreign expertise to function. The board’s composition has balances inside balances; no interest would go unrepresented, no stakeholder need fear exclusion.

There are three areas of Title VI activity that are definitely in the purview of the board. The first is outreach. All National Resource Centers are required to engage in outreach activities to the general public, which may mean seminars for K-12 teachers, the preparation of K-12 teaching kits, lending of video films, lectures to chuch and civic groups, and so on. The sad fact is that the record of federally-funded, Title VI outreach programs is marred by egregious examples of propagandizing. In some centers, federal funds have become slush to mount heavily one-sided events for the K-12 community, often with the help of off-campus political activists. I exposed some instances of this, most recently at Georgetown—an event for Washington-area K-12 teachers on the day Baghdad fell, addressed by five anti-war speakers. “Outreach” is not university curriculum, it’s an activity done at the behest of government, and it must to be monitored to assure that it provides “diverse perspectives and a full range of views.”

The second area in need of attention is criteria for fellowships. At present, too many government fellowships go to students doing arcane research that conforms to trendy academic fashions. But there is in government a massive shortfall of people competent in the languages of the region, and it’s been much-commented upon. When Congress doubled the number of grad students on its tab, its intention was to bring them into the nation’s service. These fellowships have to be prioritized to areas that link more directly to national needs. Let me quote Mike Castle, chair of the House Subcommittee on Education Reform, from his endorsement of H.R. 3077:

Our lack of highly-trained linguistics experts seriously hampers our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and this legislation provides incentive to focus these programs on the reality of the situation our men and women in uniform face overseas.

Third, there is the matter of the selection criteria of the National Resource Centers. Even the existing Title VI language calls for the creation of a “diverse network” of centers. But is the network really diverse? Or does the selection process as now constituted actually produce a uniform network? In one of my more cynical moments, I called Middle East centers the McDonald’s of academe. They flip the same intellectual hamburgers in 17 different markets. Is the nation really served by this system? Wouldn’t it be more in our national interest to have very different centers, with different emphases? For example, one center might marry Middle Eastern studies with public policy, another might offer special programs for mid-career officials, yet another might specialize in issues like Islamism and terrorism. Certainly we still want centers specializing in cinema and gender, but we already have them in spades. Only an advisory board can look at the system as a whole, measure national needs against human resources, and propose a solution.

The Very Least

Thanks to the careful crafting of this legislation, and compromises made at an early stage, the bill has so far enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. There’s no reason it shouldn’t enjoy identical support in the Senate. There is opposition among some academics to the International Studies in Higher Education. But I think it’s very shallow, and most evident in the know-nothing corners of political extremism. I can’t resist quoting a University of Michigan professor, who said that “one of the subtexts is they [referring to Dr. Kurtz and myself] don’t like criticism of Ariel Sharon and want to shut it down.” According to this professor, our objective is to force universities into “hiring pro-Likud scholars.” There are plenty of conspiracy buffs even in the ranks of full professors—people who ignore texts but make up subtexts—and they make lots of noise.

But it’s very telling that the Middle East Studies Association, or MESA, which met in annual conference two weeks ago, did not adopt a resolution against the bill, although it was discussed. If you know the history of MESA, you know its propensity for passing resolutions. But they apparently thought it wiser not to get on the wrong side of H.R. 3077, at least publicly.

The American Council on Education also doesn’t oppose the board, although it’s obliged to echo, if faintly, the concerns of the radical fringe. They, too, know that boards are how things are done in such programs. I am not so naive as to believe that there is no behind-the-scenes lobbying on the bill’s language. But whoever is doing it has yet to make a public case of the kind Dr. Kurtz and I have made, and I suspect that is because there is no case that would click with the public.

I conclude. In my book on Middle Eastern studies, I ended my discussion of Title VI reform with this observation: “No amount of tweaking Title VI can cure the more fundamental ailments that afflict the field… it is generational change that will renew and reinvigorate the field. The task will probably be accomplished by people who are under forty.” So I was struck by this fact, provided by Lisa Anderson two weeks ago in her MESA presidential address. “The field of Middle Eastern studies is not reproducing itself…in 1990, a little more than 40 percent of the full members of MESA were over fifty years old; in 2002, it was 60 percent.”

When any human group fails to reproduce itself intellectually, it means that its worldview no longer speaks to young people. I think that’s been happening for some years in Middle Eastern studies. I seriously doubt that the graying radicals will be able to lead or inspire the legions of young people who have been drawn towards the field since 9/11. These young people know that the United States is in the Middle East for the long haul, and many of them want to be a part of it.

The young will push out the old, that’s inevitable. But as it stands now, the U.S. government is complicit in delaying change, having put so many new resources in the hands of a failing old guard. Let’s keep those resources there; let’s add still more; but let’s establish a board of wise men and women, to give this program some much-needed advice. It is, quite literally, the least Congress can do.