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.