Posts Tagged Title VI

A smoke screen for Palestine-pushers

This post first appeared on the Commentary blog on November 3.

HandoutWhenever criticism is leveled at federal funding for area studies in universities—especially those bias-laden, error-prone Middle East centers—someone jumps up to claim that this funding is crucial to the national interest. Now it’s the turn of Nathan Brown, a political scientist at George Washington University and current president of the Middle East Studies Associations (MESA).

Brown claims that federally-funded area studies centers are “essential” for U.S. policy, a “vital national asset,” and “often the only sources of knowledge when crises erupt in unfamiliar places.” They’ve done an “outstanding job of training” Middle East experts, and “political” criticism of them “threatens the ability of the United States to understand the world and act effectively in it.” If you don’t like it that “an individual faculty member offends a supporter of a particular political position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should students of Swahili and teachers of Tagalog be caught in the crossfire?” Should “programming that is critical of Israel on some campuses endanger all funding for international education?”

Those are valid questions, but they’re posed disingenuously. Here are Brown’s two main elisions:

1. The only people who think that these centers are a “vital national asset” are the professors who collect the money. Over the years, there have been a series of government-sponsored reviews of these Title VI programs (reference is to the authorizing title of the Higher Education Act), and not one review has concluded that the programs do anything resembling an “outstanding job,” especially on languages. (The last major review, by the National Academies, concluded there was “insufficient information to judge program performance.”)

The claim that these centers are “often the only sources of knowledge” on emerging trouble spots is just untrue. That’s rarely the case, and as regards the Middle East, it’s now never the case. Government has had to assemble the full range of capabilities, from area expertise to language training, in-house. That’s why the Obama administration—yes, the Obama administration!—cut the budget of this “vital national asset” by 40 percent back in 2011. The only lobbying for Title VI funding comes from within academe itself.

2. The “political” criticism of Title VI Middle East centers is a response to the rampant politicization of some of these centers by those who run them, and who’ve mobilized them against Israel. This isn’t a matter of “an individual faculty member” here or there. It’s a plague that arises from overall attitudes in the field. Brown knows the problem, which is why he recently issued a letter to MESA’s members effectively imploring them not to drag the organization into a BDS debate.

One obvious effect has been to drive the study of Israel almost completely out of these centers, into separately-funded and administered Israel studies programs. Some Title VI Middle East centers, thus relieved of the burden of fairly presenting Israel, have become even more blatant purveyors of pro-Palestinian agitprop. This fall, for the first time, half a dozen Title VI center directors openly pledged to boycott Israeli academe. How might that impact the centers they administer? No one really knows.

A case can be made for Title VI. Not every Middle East center is a shameful disaster, and most of the funding goes to centers specializing in other world areas. Brown alludes to some of these arguments. But his broader defense of the Middle Eastern end of Title VI is a misleading attempt to throw up a smoke screen for the very people who really threaten the program: radical professors who treat it as a slush fund to promote their political causes on campus. If Title VI gets rough treatment in the present reauthorization, students of Swahili and teachers of Tagalog should know who’s at fault: the Palestine-pushers who’ve fouled the academic nest with their relentless propagandizing.

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Title VI verdict

I’m closely reading the new Title VI review prepared by a panel of the National Research Council for the National Academies, at the request of Congress. (Read the press release here.)

I’m not quite done considering the implications of the review for language and area studies, and for Middle Eastern studies in particular. But I’m in broad accord with Stanley Kurtz’s assessment, published yesterday at National Review Online. Kurtz hailed the review as vindication of our critique of Title VI, and I read it the same way. If the area studies establishment thought they’d get a “job-well-done” pat on the back, they’ve certainly been disappointed. The panel did affirm that the job is important and deserves more resources, but also emphasized that no one knows whether the job is being done well or not.

This is largely a problem of the Department of Education, and the recommendations for enhanced oversight, measurement, and reporting far exceed anything Kurtz and I envisioned when we supported a Title VI advisory board. We were never quite sure just how such a board would operate anyway, but we rallied to its defense when it came under attack by an unholy alliance of establishment deans and campus radicals.

The accountability machine now proposed by the National Academies looks more streamlined and effective than an advisory board. In particular, we welcome the proposed Presidential appointment of an arch-overseer for Title VI and related programs in the Department of Education. The panel recommendations specify that this appointee, after Senate confirmation, would strategize over “national needs” with other federal agencies. The National Academies names three departments in particular: State, Defense, and the Directorate of National Intelligence. Our advisory board would have met once a year, at most. A full-time accountability czar, owing his allegiance to the White House, would bear down on Title VI year-round.

Add to this the proposal that all Title VI programs get independent reviews every four or five years, and that the Department of Education prepare biennial progress reports in consultation and cooperation with those other agencies, and you have a formula for revamping Title VI from top to bottom. When I appeared before the panel last fall, I said this:

I propose to you that you consider whether Title VI needs a mechanism to assist in the implementation of your recommendations…. The best way to keep the program aligned with evolving national need in a rapidly changing environment is to create an independent mechanism that will do exactly what you are doing now, year-in-and-year-out.

That’s precisely what the panel has proposed.

The top lobbyist of the American Council on Education pretended to find a silver lining in the review, when he suggested that it exonerated Title VI grantees of bias charges. In fact, the review specifically says that the panel was not charged with investigating bias, and that “the committee considers it beyond our charge to reach any definitive judgment of the issue.” Because this panel didn’t investigate the bias issue, it remains an open one, to be addressed separately should Congress choose to do so. There are important provisions that would do just that, in the Senate version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

The crew at the National Academies spent more than a year working on this review, and it deserves more analysis than I’ve just provided. But implementing its recommendations would be an unprecedented step toward revitalizing Title VI. I personally thank the panel for the opportunity to appear before it, to make a critic’s case.

Accountability and Vindication (Title VI)

On March 28, 2007, Inside Higher Education’s Scott Jaschik reported on the findings of the National Research Council study of Title VI. The article is here. Martin Kramer posted this comment at the site. Posted retroactively here at Sandbox.

This report names and quotes me as a Title VI critic who feels vindicated by the panel report. That I am. And the panel report’s demands for greater accountability go even further than those reported by Mr. Jaschik.

For example, one of our criticisms has been the disconnect between Title VI and the needs of the federal government. A key recommendation of the panel reads as follows:

“Congress should require the secretary of education, in consultation and coordination with the departments of State and Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and other relevant agencies to submit a biennial report outlining national needs identified in foreign language, area, and international studies, plans for addressing these needs, and progress made. This report should be made available to the public.”

This revolutionary proposal directly links Title VI and other academic language programs to the need perceptions of the major national security agencies of the United States. The public, biennial report would give Congress and the public a basis on which to determine whether these programs are meeting “national needs,” and not just the whims of academics.

Likewise, the incumbent of the new position envisioned at the Education Department would not only oversee and coordinate programs. This “executive-level” appointee would “provide strategic direction, and consult and coordinate with other federal agencies. The position should be one that requires presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.” The report also calls on this appointee to have his or her own staff. In effect, this would be an accountability czar, who would owe allegiance directly to the White House.

These provisions, when combined with the requirement of independent reviews of all programs every four or five years, add up to an accountability machine that exceeds what we envisioned in an advisory board. We could not be more pleased.

As to bias, Mr. Hartle of the American Council on Education is cited as claiming that the leaders of the panel vindicated the position of academics that there is no bias in Title VI programs. In fact, only Professor Prewitt made that “finding,” and stressed that he did so on a personal basis. Coming from a professor at Columbia, where bias made the front pages of the New York Times, this is not much of a reassurance.

In fact, the report specifically says that the panel was not charged with investigating bias, and that “the committee considers it beyond our charge to reach any definitive judgment of the issue.” Can this be called vindication? Because this panel did not investigate the bias issue, it remains an open one, to be addressed separately should Congress choose to do so. There are important provisions that would do just that, in the Senate version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

I personally wish to take this opportunity to thank the panel for its work, and for the opportunity to appear before it to make a critic’s case. All of us have an interest in seeing these programs flourish. The report is an important step in that direction.

Speaking Title VI Truth to Power

Tomorrow, Tuesday, the Committee to Review the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays International Education Programs will release its final report at a press briefing at the National Academies in Washington. There will be a live audio webcast of the briefing at 12:30 Eastern (details here). The committee has concluded a Congressionally mandated review of government programs that fund area studies (including Middle Eastern studies) in universities. Congress instructed the National Academies to assess “the adequacy and effectiveness of these programs in addressing their statutory missions and in building the nation’s international and foreign language expertise—particularly as needed for economic, foreign affairs, and national security purposes.”

The reform of Title VI is something I’ve advocated for years, in my book Ivory Towers on Sand and on this website. But as readers will recall, I greeted the establishment of the committee with skepticism. On its first day of public hearings in February of last year, I wrote that the committee was “a brainchild of the stonewallers and whitewashers” who receive Title VI subsidies, and I provided the evidence. Their idea was to forestall a Title VI advisory board appointed by Congress, which might intrude on their cozy entitlement.

But I added this, in my name and that of my fellow Title VI critic Stanley Kurtz:

In a spirit of fairness, we’re prepared to hold our fire and see whether the [committee] has the grit to dig hard and find the truth. We’re not awed by its credentials. We respect smarts. We’re keen to see whether the committee members are savvy enough to plow aside the heaps of propaganda and disinformation about to be dumped on them by subsidized “stakeholders.” And we want to see how much ingenuity the [committee] shows in ferreting out contradictory evidence, which is part of its mandate. It’s not enough for the committee to sit back and wait for submissions. They’ve got to get out there and collect their own data.

Over the past year, Kurtz and I have kept our word. He held his fire, and I went even further, accepting an invitation from the committee to join a panel discussion last fall on “Title VI in the 21st Century.” Below is my statement to the committee. I didn’t mince words.

Tomorrow, we’ll get the final report. Let’s all read it carefully. At stake is the future of the largest of all federal foreign language programs, and the preparedness of the United States for the challenges of the future.

Update, April 3: And here is my verdict on the Title VI review. It’s favorable.

Statement by Martin Kramer
Committee to Review the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays
International Education Programs
Fourth Committee Meeting
October 5, 2006
The National Academies
Beckman Center
Irvine, CA

If one were to judge by past experience, your enterprise is a futile one. Before I left Washington, I refreshed my memory by delving into the major reassessments of Title VI, submitted in the past to Congress and the Department of Education. There is the report by the Comptroller General of the United States from 1978. There is the report prepared by RAND in 1981. There is the report by the Congressional Research Service from 1989. And there is the report by the National Foreign Language Center from 2000.

Together they make sobering reading. They are evidence, first, that frustration with Title VI has been evident for decades, and second, that the reforms proposed by previous panels have been largely ignored. Many of the recommendations are repeated in each assessment. If past is future, your findings will be added to this pile of forgotten paper.

The source of the frustration is well-known and well-attested. It has been partly obscured by the other testimonials you have heard in your previous meetings, so it needs to be re-emphasized. It is this: despite the achievements of Title VI—and there have been achievements—this is a program that has digressed from its original purpose.

When Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, it hoped the new program would expand the pool of language-competent Americans who would serve the national interest, broadly defined. That understanding remains at the very core of the Title VI contract between government and academe.

But despite fifty years of Title VI, such Americans are far too few in number and competence to meet the nation’s needs. The academic community claims to have done everything within its power, with limited resources, to meet the need. But there are grounds to suspect that this isn’t the entire story, or even the real story.

The real Title VI story is this. Many in area studies are persuaded that the United States possesses excessive power, or abuses its power. Knowledge in the service of such power is knowledge complicit in its excesses and failures. The inclination of these academics has been to separate Title VI from its original intent, and transform it into part of the academy’s own reproductive system. They will not surrender the resources that Title VI transfers; but they have worked to turn the program from a contract into an entitlement, and to shift its emphasis away from hard languages and toward soft area studies, which enjoy far more academic prestige.

My time is too short to detail the resulting distortion. It is ably summarized in the National Foreign Language Center’s 2000 assessment. According to that report “over the years, the original focus on language has been replaced with a much broader mandate for area and international studies.” As a result, the report concludes, Title VI isn’t doing all it could have done to fill the language deficit. That report recommended the “refocus [of] Title VI/Fulbright-Hays on language.”

This is the same lament conveyed in the comments submitted to you by the Federal Interagency Language Roundtable—to my mind, the most important submission made to you. It gives Title VI a “fairly good” grade in promoting general area studies and curriculum development. But in preparing graduates with a full range of language competence, the grade is “considerably poorer.” The Roundtable calls for “systematic objective assessment” of the program, and ends by proposing that Title VI centers “commit to delivering more instruction in language skills at higher levels.”

So the question is this: why hasn’t government already recalibrated the program?

The answer lies in an imbalance of political will and human resources. Title VI, on a federal scale, is a very small program—too small to command the sustained attention of Congress. And a small and overstretched bureaucracy administers it. They have not been equal to a determined coalition of provosts, deans, center directors, and professional lobbyists. These have succeeded in massaging, tweaking, and spinning Title VI so that it meets precisely their purposes.

This “Title VI community” now greets even the most modest proposal for reform with a massive wall of denial and resistance. And they assure that every careful reassessment of Title VI is discarded in the same pile.

For a recent example of such a reaction, I urge you to read an article by Dr. Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association (in this collection). It bears this provocative title: “The Unraveling of the Devil’s Bargain: The History and Politics of Language Acquisition.” The devil, it soon becomes clear, is none other that the U.S. government. In striking a bargain with Washington, writes Newhall, academe made the mistake of justifying Title VI in terms of languages for national security. Her conclusion: “Traditionally, language programs have offered a degree of protection for the area-studies component of federally supported programs… Now the devil’s bargain is unraveling.”

I commend Dr. Newhall for writing so frankly, first, about the stealth use of Title VI as a language cover for area studies, and second, for dropping the usual pabulum about the “congruence of national interests and the broader interests of scholarship.” (That is the boilerplate language she used in her submission to you.) No, she says, we cut a deal with the devil. This, from the executive director of this country’s leading association of Middle Eastern studies, is a sudden glimpse into the kind of prejudice that has kept Title VI from reaching its full potential.

The truth, of course, is that the bargain has not unravelled at all: for example, there are more Title VI centers for the Middle East today than at any time in history. Dr. Newhall’s piece is an example of the melodramatic overstatement that greets every mention of Title VI reform. The question of whether we are to get even a minor recalibration of Title VI is very much an open one. And it very much depends on you.

I would not be so presumptuous as to anticipate your conclusions. I would venture a guess that you will reiterate some of the recommendations made in the past, hopefully regarding the primacy of languages, and that you will make other original recommendations.

When it comes to original recommendations, I propose to you that you consider whether Title VI needs a mechanism to assist in the implementation of your recommendations. Once you have added to the pile of reassessments, what will assure that the one and a half million dollars spent on your exercise will have made a difference?

The obstacle to implementation remains the imbalance of will and resources I mentioned earlier—an imbalance that tilts the program away from its intent. Some weight has to be added to the other side of the scale.

The best way to keep the program aligned with evolving national need in a rapidly changing environment is to create an independent mechanism that will do exactly what you are doing now, year-in-and-year-out. Title VI needs “systematic, objective assessment,” and it should not require a tragedy on the scale of 9/11 and five years of sharp polemics to get it. It should be institutionalized for Title VI, as it is for other programs. This may be the only way to restore Congressional confidence in the program, at a time when newer, focused language programs have stolen the flag from Title VI. A rough-and-ready version of this idea appears in the House version of the long-stalled reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. It is possible to imagine additional or alternative approaches.

The most important recommendation you can make—indeed, the one on which all your other recommendations depend—is the establishment of an independent, credentialed body to assist the future development of Title VI.

•• Sandstorm, March 26, 2007

Thank you, Senator Frist

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) gave a speech this past Sunday, and he said the following, which I am pleased to bring to the attention of my colleagues in Middle Eastern studies.

As many of you know, since the Cold War, the United States has funded university-based Area Studies Centers to train men and women who can serve in our defense and intelligence agencies.

But many Area Studies Centers, particularly those which deal with the Middle East, have become captive to narrow agendas: they propagate misleading or one-sided curricula for students and K-12 teachers, negatively portray Israel at every turn, and even bar military and intelligence agencies from advertising job openings.

I prize free academic debate and wide open discourse, but we must make sure that the Area Studies Centers carry out the role we created for them.

Which is why I’m supporting changes to the Higher Education Act that will ensure that these Centers fulfill their role to facilitate national security and foster global democracy.

Until now, Title VI reform didn’t have a champion in the Senate. Now it has one and they don’t come any bigger.