Arabic scandal at Berkeley

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Congress increased funding for the Title VI subsidy program to area studies in universities by 26 percent. The lawmakers stated their intent to boost language study, particularly where “Islamic and/or Muslim culture, politics, religion, and economy are a significant factor.” We all know what that means: more Arabic. Thanks to the windfall, federal funding for Middle East centers is at an all-time high. Berkeley has just such a center, continuously subsidized under Title VI for the last forty years.

So you have to shake your head at reports that Berkeley has actually been cutting its introductory Arabic offerings for four years running, regularly leaving more than a hundred undergrads stuck on a waiting list. Why? Budget reductions. “It’s a disaster, it’s a tragedy,” the head of the Near Eastern studies department says. “Instead of growing, we’re pulling back at a time when Arabic is vitally important.”

Well, maybe scandal is a more apt description than disaster. Why hasn’t Berkeley poured its increased Title VI subsidy into the gap left by university budget cuts? What does Berkeley do with our Title VI tax dollars that’s more important than meeting undergrad demand for Arabic? That a university can bag a windfall Title VI increase, cut its Arabic instruction year after year, and face no consequences, is more proof if more were needed that Title VI just isn’t working. Academe’s lobbyists sell Title VI to Congress as a language program. As I’ve shown before, that’s a false bill of goods.

The federal Department of Education should send a sharp warning to Berkeley, and publicly lay down this rule: at universities hosting Title VI centers for the Middle East, no potential Arabic student should be left behind. And Congress should get moving on an advisory board for Title VI. It’s a provision of HR509.