Back in June, the House Subcommittee on Select Education convened hearings on bias in Title VI, the program of government subsidies for area studies in universities. The indefatigable Stanley Kurtz, critic of Title VI, gave invaluable testimony and carried the day. Kurtz, Daniel Pipes, and I also urged readers to write to subcommittee chair Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), asking him to introduce legislation establishing a board for Title VI. Representative Hoekstra has done just that.
Hoekstra is the author of the International Studies in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3077). On September 17, the subcommittee passed it unanimously. On September 25, the full Committee on Education and the Workforce reported it favorably by unanimous voice vote. (Kurtz and I attended that markup.) It now goes to the House floor. The bill is a compromise—American politics, unlike the “dictatorship of virtue” that prevails in academe, involves compromise—but the result is a genuine breakthrough. (To read the bill, click here and enter “HR3077” for the bill number. The relevant version is the second one, reported in the House.)
The bill does three things. First, it recalls the original purpose of the Title VI program: to enhance the “national interests” and meet the “national needs” of the United States. Title VI began as a national defense program in 1958. In later years, it became a semi-entitlement, lightly administered by the Department of Education. Ultimately it became part of the reproductive tract of academic area studies—slush for arcane research by grad students bent on academic careers. The bill emphasizes, in its “findings and purposes,” that the country’s post-9/11 security requires trained Americans who are “willing to serve their nation,” and charges Title VI with “assist[ing] the national effort to educate and train citizens to participate in the efforts of homeland security.” The bill also requires grantee institutions to allow unencumbered government recruiting.
Just the other week, a report on U.S. public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world gave distressing figures on the lack of Arabic competence in the State Department. Reports underline an identical problem in the ranks of U.S. administrators in Iraq. There are lots of reasons for the shortfall, but one of them is that universities use Title VI money to produce more academics—and nothing else. The bill sends a strong message: in future, programs also will be judged by the degree to which they send students into the nation’s service.
Second, the bill establishes that academic programs supported by Title VI, including outreach programs, should “reflect diverse perspectives and represent the full range of views” on international affairs. Activities under Title VI should “foster debate on American foreign policy from diverse perspectives.” When the Coalition for International Education, one of the higher education lobbies, saw this wording, it assured members it was lobbying toward “eliminating language about diverse perspectives, debate and range of views.” Diversity is one of the great mantras of academe—provided the diversity isn’t intellectual.
Fortunately, the legislators were wiser. They know that academe, which preserves its ancient structure as a guild, places a premium on conformity. The language on diversity and full range has remained, so that the bill effectively enjoins academe to make room for alternative views. This is particularly crucial in outreach beyond the campus, an activity mandated by Title VI, in which the instances of one-sided propagandizing are legion.
Third, and most important, the bill establishes a seven-member advisory board, completely independent of any department or agency, and empowered “to study, monitor, apprise, and evaluate” activities supported under the title. Three of the board members are to be appointed by the Secretary of Education, and two of those will represent government agencies with national security responsibilities. The leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate each will appoint two more. The board will meet once a year, to make recommendations to the Department of Education and the Congress on the operation of Title VI. Before making recommendations, the board will hold public hearings.
The board is not exactly revolutionary. Boards govern the Fulbright program, another major source of fellowships; the National Security Education Program, a program of scholarships; and the U.S. Institute of Peace, which makes grants to academics. Even Title VI once had a board, a few decades back. But for a long time, Title VI has enjoyed a general exemption from any outside input, and has been run by and for the academic mandarins. The new board will give the rest of us—government agencies, the Congress, and the interested public—an instrument to monitor Title VI and influence the policies that guide it. That lays a new foundation for a partnership among academe, government, and the public, at a time of pressing national need.
But because the bill does all these things, the lights are burning late over at the American Council on Education (ACE), higher education’s top lobby. Even though the bill has been amended to meet many of their concerns, they won’t rest until the board is bound, gagged, and blindfolded. To some extent, the board is already bound: it’s an advisory board, not a supervisory one, and it can only make recommendations. To a lesser extent, it is gagged: it cannot recommend legislation without the approval of the President. So far, it hasn’t been blindfolded. So the folks over at ACE are still at work. Read their latest:
The higher education community still is fearful that this board, rather than being just an advisory body, would have too much authority to interfere in the curricular activities of individual institutions and might set a precedent for further federal involvement in the conduct and content of higher education. The American Council on Education will continue to seek further improvements to the bill as it moves to the House floor for consideration.
In fact, far from having “too much authority,” the board has too little. Read the bill. The board only has the power to make recommendations. The Secretary of Education isn’t obliged to accept any of them. And the lobby has already succeeded in getting this passage inserted in the bill: “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.” So just what does the education lobby want?
It wants a board that will do absolutely nothing. And to achieve that end, no scare tactics are too crude. Listen, for example, to Gilbert W. Merkx, a Duke professor (who also testified last June): “The advisory board could easily be hijacked by those who have a political ax to grind and become a vehicle for an inquisition.” That’s the mindset of the mandarins: people with different views are ax-wielding hijackers, and any criticism is an “inquisition.”
I have a word of advice to Professor Merkx and other academics who fear that government might peek into the principalities over which they rule: Don’t take taxpayers’ money. There are plenty of university programs in international and area studies that don’t get Title VI funding. Become one of them. Get off the public dole and find other subsidies—perhaps from one of those rich Saudi princes on an academic shopping spree. Then you can run your program without any diversity of perspectives, just like they do in Saudi Arabia. You won’t be missed, and other worthy recipients will benefit.
The bill now has to get past the House floor and the Senate. What can we do to keep it from being gutted by the high-powered lobbyists of big academe? Easy: write to Washington. Tell elected representatives that you support the International Studies in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3077), that you support a strong and effective advisory board for Title VI, and that you believe that Title VI programs should reflect diverse perspectives and represent a full range of views. Send your letter to:
- Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) at firstname.lastname@example.org. As author of the bill, he needs to hear that there is a constituency that opposes any erosion of the board’s advisory powers. That’s important to move the bill unscathed through the House.
- Senator Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, at email@example.com. His committee is the next stop, once the bill clears the House.
It also helps to send copies of your letter to your own congressman and senators.
If you’re a student, and you’ve been galvanized by 9/11 to study foreign affairs, you have a special interest in this bill. It will open intellectual space and expand your opportunities. You have a greater stake in this legislation than your professors, who already enjoy the security and privileges of tenure. Write in support of the bill in your campus newspaper, and e-mail the article or letter to Representative Hoekstra and Senator Gregg. When an editorial in the Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin, endorsed the bill, a congressman from Texas signed on as a cosponsor. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce even reproduced the editorial in its appeal for more cosponsors. Students are voters, and they matter as much to legislators as professors. (Indeed, they might matter even more, since there are more of them.) Use your leverage.
It’s time to write a new contract for Title VI—not to punish anyone, but to deepen America’s resources for coping with the world. A contract has at least two parties. To all those lobbyists and academics who think Title VI is an entitlement, encourage Congress to send this message: “Not on our dime.”