Title VI: Let the games begin!

Remember Title VI? That’s the federal subsidy program for area studies in universities. It’s this money that funds 17 National Resource Centers on the Middle East at U.S. universities. (One example: the Middle East Institute at Columbia, directed by Rashid Khalidi.) An average National Resource Center, with fellowships in the package, will receive about half a million dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies. The U.S. Department of Education administers the program. Today, a Congressionally-mandated review of Title VI gets underway at the National Research Council, part of the Washington-based National Academies (pictured).

Here’s the context. A couple of years back, when the scars of 9/11 were still fresh, Stanley Kurtz and I joined a campaign to reform Title VI. The program, as initially conceived in the 1950s, was supposed to produce grads fluent in foreign languages, who would go on to serve the country’s growing need for area expertise. But over the decades, service-averse academics turned it into a slush fund for subsidizing their pet grad students, who were being groomed for academe. Trendy theory replaced language proficiency as selection criteria. And some centers plowed the money into bogus “outreach”–university-based programs that siphoned taxpayer money to off-campus radicals, who used it to propagandize K-12 teachers.

We proposed a modest solution: a Title VI advisory board, appointed by Congress, to make recommendations to Capitol Hill and the Ed Department on aligning Title VI with national priorities. In 2003, the board concept appeared in the House bill for the higher ed reauthorization. In reaction, the program’s tenured dependents let out a great howl, which spread right through academe like the Danish cartoon mania. The campaign featured wild charges that the board would turn into an inquisition, and that Kurtz and I would be its Torquemadas. In fact, the proposed board lacked any authority; it would have been advisory only, and its members would have been appointed by bipartisan consent. The idea of a board wasn’t even new: the Title VI program had one in years past. But hell hath no fury like a professor held accountable, and the howls reached some Senators. Title VI reform may eventually make it through Congress, but it’s currently stuck in the bog of the delayed reauthorization.

That’s another story. But it was the prospect of a board that gave birth to the idea of a review. Now who do you think would have dreaded the board most? Well, Columbia University, for starters. Two years ago, a Columbia dean, Lisa Anderson, proposed that the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies assess Title VI, as an alternative to a Congressionally-appointed board. (You remember Dean Anderson, don’t you? She was Joseph Massad’s thesis advisor and supporter, and she raised the secret money for the Edward Said Chair.) Anderson had a line into the NRC: she had just served on an NRC panel to investigate aspects of terrorism. She floated the NRC idea to journalist Todd Gitlin, and Columbia’s in-house lobbyist also amplified it: “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 went up to Senate Democrats, who dropped it into the FY 04 appropriation for the Ed Department. Congress ended up earmarking $1.5 million for a contract with the NRC, for a review of Title VI.

That review begins this morning, with the first meeting of the review committee and a “public forum.”

From our point of view, the NRC review was born in sin, a brainchild of the stonewallers and whitewashers on Morningside Heights. It’s the sweet dream of the Title VI “community,” some of whose members have rushed to Washington to make their statements this morning. (They include Amy Newhall, executive director of the Juan Cole-led Middle East Studies Association, and David Wiley, African studies mandarin and advocate of an academic boycott of the National Security Education Program, an alternative to Title VI.)

But in a spirit of fairness, we’re prepared to hold our fire and see whether the NRC 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 NRC 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.

As a service to the committee, we’ll help it ask the tough questions, by posing some of them ourselves. We’ll also be looking carefully at all of the submissions to the committee, exposing distortions of fact and picking holes in faulty logic. We don’t need ten minutes at the old-fashioned “open mic.” We’re right here on the Internet, and we’ll take as much time as we need.