H.R. 3077: The Dean’s Deception

Congress is back to business in Washington. That business includes H.R.3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which the House of Representatives passed unanimously last autumn. Now the bill is in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican. The bill, it will be recalled, would establish an International Advisory Board for the Title VI program, which subsidizes foreign area studies in U.S. universities. The board would advise the Department of Education and the Congress on how Title VI might best meet national needs.

I’ve written a great deal at Sandstorm in support of this legislation, as has Stanley Kurtz over at National Review Online. Recently, other knowledgeable people have come forward to put the the legislation in proper context. Diane Jones, director of the government affairs office at Princeton, has written a piece in the Yale Daily News, calling the reaction of some academics to the bill a “panic.” Her conclusion: “The roles and responsibilities of the International Advisory Board, as outlined in the final version of the House bill, are in alignment with those of other federal advisory boards.” Kenneth D. Whitehead, a former Department of Education assistant secretary, has published a strong endorsement of the bill and the proposed board. Whitehead: “As the federal official who administered and supervised Title VI from 1982 through 1989, I know the program inside and out—and I know that it needs an advisory board.” The message sent by Jones and Whitehead is clear: H.R.3077 falls entirely within the range of sound and responsible legislation.

The creation of some sort of a board now seems inevitable. That has left academic opponents of H.R.3077 with one remaining gambit: revising the composition of the board itself. The House version of the bill envisions a seven-member board. Two members would be appointed by the President pro-tem of the Senate, and two by the Speaker of the House, in both instances on recommendation of the majority and minority leaders. Three members would be appointed by the Secretary of Education, two of whom would represent agencies with national security responsibilities. (In an earlier posting, I explained what that means.)

Whitehead, in his endorsement, called this composition “a perfect formula.” But some academics disagree. They want to rob Congress of any say in appointments, and they want to keep out representatives of any agency that has a role in national security. So they are proposing a different kind of advisory board, comprised of…themselves. Yes, the academics want to be the ones to advise Washington on how to meet national needs.

The champion of this alternative is Professor Lisa Anderson, dean of international affairs at Columbia University. A journalist who spoke to her paraphrased her position in these words: Why an advisory council composed of political appointees? Why not turn supervision over to an august body like the National Research Council? Why not represent nongovernmental organizations or educational institutions themselves, all of which have a stake in the work of international-studies research?

Anderson’s position has been adopted by Columbia itself. The university’s director of government relations, Ellen Smith, has been quoted as saying: “We feel that an advisory board with goals set by an independent body such as the National Academy of Sciences would make most sense.” This proposal apparently has been conveyed to Senator Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat who also sits on the HELP Committee.

Let me not put too fine a point on it: the Anderson/Columbia proposal would effectively gut H.R.3077. If any variation of it were to creep into the Senate version of the bill, I and others who have supported the legislation would turn against it with a vengeance. Why? It’s a ploy to keep Congress, government departments, and experienced non-academics completely out of the Title VI advisory process.

To understand how it’s a ploy, you have to know something about the National Academy of Sciences and its instrument, the National Research Council. These are august bodies, but they also have absolutely no connection to area studies. They deal exclusively with real science. Look at the governing board of the National Research Council. It’s chaired by a biochemist, vice-chaired by an engineer, and presided over by a physician. Every member of the governing board comes from the hard sciences or engineering.

Professor Anderson knows this perfectly well. She also knows that such a body would come straight to her and the university-based mandarins for “expertise.” The resulting board would be a rubber-stamp for the beneficiaries of Title VI subsidies, instead of a tool for critical scrutiny by independent observers. In the twisted vision behind this proposal, the stakeholders of Title VI are the professors themselves, not the U.S. government or the American people. Whitehead has put it best:

The alternative proposals for a board now floating around academe would all effectively mandate the academic beneficiaries of Title VI to monitor and advise themselves. I know from past experience that such a board would be worse than useless. You cannot set national priorities by peer review. The vast majority of academics have neither the knowledge of nor, apparently, any great concern about the needs of government. The Department of Education doesn’t need more advice from academics; it needs more advice from other government departments and experts with international experience. Only they can tell whether Title VI is pulling its weight.

Senators: the present composition of the board, itself the product of a compromise, strikes just the right balance among competing interests. Don’t be deceived. You have it within your power to launch a new era of area studies in the United States, one of genuine partnership between government and academe—provided the bill passes just as it is.

Addendum: Some Advice for Georgetown. The Washington Post ran an inept article on Middle Eastern studies last week, mixing up everything: Campus Watch, Daniel Pipes, H.R.3077, you name it. The issues were beyond the grasp of the journalist. But there’s a remarkable quote there, from Professor Michael Hudson, director of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Hudson is reacting to the idea of an advisory board for Title VI:

We are very sensitive to having strings attached to what we do. If an Arab government came to us and said, “We will give you money, but we will have an advisory body check up on what you do with it,” I don’t think we would take the money.

Let’s leave aside the obvious fallacy: the U.S. government is not on par with an Arab government, because it’s our government, and it’s accountable. It has a legal obligation to check up on what is done with taxpayer dollars.

But there’s another fallacy here, Professor Hudson. Your CCAS already has a board of advisors. Its members include Prince Turki Al-Faisal bin Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud, former head of Saudi intelligence and now Saudi ambassador to London; and Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Saud Al-Thani, former ambassador of Qatar to Washington and a high official in the Emir of Qatar’s protocol office. That establishes what CCAS is prepared to do for a riyal. It’s just a question of the price.