Title VI verdict

I’m closely reading the new Title VI review prepared by a panel of the National Research Council for the National Academies, at the request of Congress. (Read the press release here.)

I’m not quite done considering the implications of the review for language and area studies, and for Middle Eastern studies in particular. But I’m in broad accord with Stanley Kurtz’s assessment, published yesterday at National Review Online. Kurtz hailed the review as vindication of our critique of Title VI, and I read it the same way. If the area studies establishment thought they’d get a “job-well-done” pat on the back, they’ve certainly been disappointed. The panel did affirm that the job is important and deserves more resources, but also emphasized that no one knows whether the job is being done well or not.

This is largely a problem of the Department of Education, and the recommendations for enhanced oversight, measurement, and reporting far exceed anything Kurtz and I envisioned when we supported a Title VI advisory board. We were never quite sure just how such a board would operate anyway, but we rallied to its defense when it came under attack by an unholy alliance of establishment deans and campus radicals.

The accountability machine now proposed by the National Academies looks more streamlined and effective than an advisory board. In particular, we welcome the proposed Presidential appointment of an arch-overseer for Title VI and related programs in the Department of Education. The panel recommendations specify that this appointee, after Senate confirmation, would strategize over “national needs” with other federal agencies. The National Academies names three departments in particular: State, Defense, and the Directorate of National Intelligence. Our advisory board would have met once a year, at most. A full-time accountability czar, owing his allegiance to the White House, would bear down on Title VI year-round.

Add to this the proposal that all Title VI programs get independent reviews every four or five years, and that the Department of Education prepare biennial progress reports in consultation and cooperation with those other agencies, and you have a formula for revamping Title VI from top to bottom. When I appeared before the panel last fall, I said this:

I propose to you that you consider whether Title VI needs a mechanism to assist in the implementation of your recommendations…. The best way to keep the program aligned with evolving national need in a rapidly changing environment is to create an independent mechanism that will do exactly what you are doing now, year-in-and-year-out.

That’s precisely what the panel has proposed.

The top lobbyist of the American Council on Education pretended to find a silver lining in the review, when he suggested that it exonerated Title VI grantees of bias charges. In fact, the review specifically says that the panel was not charged with investigating bias, and that “the committee considers it beyond our charge to reach any definitive judgment of the issue.” Because this panel didn’t investigate the bias issue, it remains an open one, to be addressed separately should Congress choose to do so. There are important provisions that would do just that, in the Senate version of the Higher Education Act reauthorization.

The crew at the National Academies spent more than a year working on this review, and it deserves more analysis than I’ve just provided. But implementing its recommendations would be an unprecedented step toward revitalizing Title VI. I personally thank the panel for the opportunity to appear before it, to make a critic’s case.