Title VI Fix Passes in House

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the International Studies in Higher Education Act (H.R. 3077)—the Title VI fix that will establish an advisory board for the federal program that subsidizes Middle Eastern (and other area) studies in American universities. The bill, having won overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, now goes to the Senate. Sandstorm has already underlined the bill’s importance, and I know that many readers wrote to its author, Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) in support of it. But the road is still long.

The higher education lobby, led by the American Council on Education (ACE), remains determined to gut the bill. Never mind that the board will be advisory, not supervisory. Never mind that the bill doesn’t allow the board “to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction.” ACE just doesn’t like the idea of anyone in Washington watching what academics do, even with tax dollars. Here is ACE’s latest, in a letter issued on the day the bill sailed through the House:

We believe the current legislation leaves open the possibility that the Advisory Board could intrude into the academic conduct and content of higher education and could impinge on institutional decisions about curriculum and activities. Indeed, the powers vested in the proposed Advisory Board make it more of an investigative, rather than an advisory, body.

This is so bald a misconstrual of the bill that I dare to call it a lie. The board has no formal investigative powers. It cannot subpoena witnesses or hold anyone in contempt. Only government departments and agencies are obliged by law to provide information to the board, presumably so that it can determine whether the program is meeting the manpower needs of any agency of government. (My guess: it isn’t.) The law would enjoin the board to “monitor” the activities of Title VI. That’s an essential function: how else is the board to make intelligent recommendations? There is also a provision for public hearings, so that the many stakeholders and constituencies can make their voices heard. The board can also commission research on Title VI—something the Department of Education has done every decade anyway. But the board has no investigative “powers” at its disposal.

What ACE really wants Congress to do is to put out the eyes and cut off the ears of the board before its birth, so that it will have to rely on the demonstrably misleading “testimony” offered up by the lobby. And so ACE tries to scare up the ghost of McCarthyism by calling the board “investigative.” It’s a cheap trick, and it won’t work: the legislators are a lot smarter than most professors and their lobbyists seem to think.

I was delighted to see a liberal Democrat and civil libertarian rise on the House floor to endorse the idea of the board. Representative Howard L. Berman of California, a man wise in the ways of foreign affairs, who has been described as a “libertarian-leaning liberal,” put his finger on the problem. It’s this: as it stands, taxpayers are being ripped off by university programs that serve no national interest. Academic scammers are the problem; the board is the solution. This Sandstorm entry concludes with Representative Berman’s remarks:

I am encouraged that the creation of this Advisory Board will help redress a problem which is a great concern of mine, namely, the lack of balance, and indeed the anti-American bias that pervades Title VI- funded Middle East studies programs in particular. To the extent that it advances the national interest to commit taxpayer funds to institutions of higher education for the purpose of fostering expertise with regard to key regions of the world—and I would emphatically affirm that it does—then surely it is troubling when evidence suggests that many of the Middle East regional studies grantees are committed to a narrow point of view at odds with our national interest, a point of view that questions the validity of advancing American ideals of democracy and the rule of law around the world, and in the Middle East in particular.

The Advisory Board’s oversight function does not impinge on the academic freedom that is and must be enjoyed by our institutions of higher education. In establishing the board, we are doing no more than exercising our responsibility to ensure that the Federal funds we authorize and appropriate are expended properly.

Give Representative Berman a slap on the back. His email is Howard.Berman@mail.house.gov

MESA Footnote. Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), spreads the lie, calling the advisory board an “investigative body rather than an advisory group.” And if that doesn’t stir the sleeping dogs of academe, she has another whopper: the bill “will establish a precedent for future legislation directed at any field, discipline, or professional school in any and all universities.”

Hardly. There aren’t too many disciplines that so vigorously suck the taxpayer’s teat as Middle Eastern studies, and it would be hard to find another field as intolerant of intellectual diversity. It’s the combination that is both unique and insufferable.

When the MESA mandarins huddle in Anchorage, Alaska, in their annual meeting next week, they would do well to ponder how their unchecked excesses finally prodded Washington into action. They made it easy. And if they really fear “investigation,” here is free advice from the Sandstorm advisory board: Get off the federal dole. Float undisturbed in your post-orientalist bubble while more practical people use the resources to build credible alternatives.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Title VI will cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars over the next five years. It’s possible to work miracles with that much money. The task of the advisory board will be to make sure they happen.

Congress Probes Middle Eastern Studies

Consider this assessment of the influence of Edward Said on Middle Eastern studies:

In a work published in 1978, [Edward Said] argued that Western meddling in the Middle East throughout much of the 20th Century produced the conflict and turbulence that continues to plague that region of the world….This theory reached its apex of popularity more than a decade ago and has been waning ever since. Even a cursory review of the syllabi of the Middle East Centers clearly shows this work only occasionally appears as an assigned reading or on a resource list. Indeed, historians and political scientists rarely find this theory useful.

Hands on hearts, fellow academics: is this assessment even remotely accurate? Has Edward Said’s influence been in a decade-long decline? Is his 1978 book Orientalism only “occasionally” assigned or listed as a resource? Is he “rarely” invoked by scholars in the field?

The claim is absolute nonsense, as anyone who inhabits academe knows. Said is one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation. (It happened again this spring at Berkeley and UCLA.) Just this past fall, on the anniversary of 9/11, American and European scholars of the Middle East, meeting in their first “world congress,” honored Said (and only Said) with their first-ever award for “outstanding contributions to Middle Eastern studies.” And needless to say, you cannot finish an undergraduate education in Middle Eastern studies without being assigned Orientalism several times over.

So who is the fellow making this absurd assertion about Said, and why is he making it?

His name is Terry Hartle, he’s a top lobbyist at the American Council on Education, and he made his claim in testimony last Thursday before the House Subcommittee on Select Education. His purpose: to absolve Middle Eastern studies of the charge that they remain under the spell of academe’s most virulent critic of American power and policy in the Middle East. Why should this interest Congress? Because there are people who are beginning to ask why American taxpayers should subsidize the activities of Edward Said’s acolytes, to the tune of several millions of dollars a year.

Poor Dr. Hartle. The Subcommittee, with very little notice, decided to conduct a hearing on Title VI, the federal program that subsidizes area studies, including Middle Eastern studies, at American universities. Since 9/11, higher education lobbyists like Hartle have been pushing for more Title VI funding, citing the threats emanating from the Middle East. The paradox is that the very Middle East “experts” who have been getting Title VI money for decades have been anything but prescient about changes in the Middle East. Even worse, a lot of them subscribe to Edward Said’s notion that the proper role of American scholars is to agitate against the alleged excesses of American neo-imperialism, both in the classroom and outside of it. The most brazen abusers have done this on the government’s nickle.

So Dr. Hartle was very busy on Thursday, covering up the sins of Middle Eastern studies. His job wasn’t made any easier by Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution, an indefatigable critic of the excesses of Title VI-subsidized centers and scholars. You can view the proceedings yourself, or read about them in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Sun, and the Subcommittee’s press release.

I do feel sorry for all the decent folk in other fields who get Title VI funding and make good use of it. Their colleagues in Middle Eastern studies, whom they’ve never held in particularly high regard anyway, have fouled the nest. A recent study of the membership of MESA shows that the age of members is rising, and that fewer of them have junior positions—all signs that departments have been avoiding the odious task of making new appointments in the field. Now schools of international affairs are faced with the prospect that the reckless antics of Middle East “experts” might undercut their own support in Washington. Thus, Hartle was quick to point out that Middle East centers are only a “small and specific part of the Title VI programs,” and that it is “a fairly small part of Title VI that has generated controversy.” The problem is that the rotten apples in Title VI specialize precisely in that part of the world that’s likely to remain at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda for years to come.

Title VI comes under the Higher Education Act, which is up for reauthorization, so now is the time to suggest fixes. Stanley Kurtz proposed to the Subcommittee a fair and equitable way to help Middle Eastern studies back to their senses, without gutting Title VI. (And believe me, there are some on Capitol Hill who would gut it in a flash.) The key proposal is establishment of a supervisory board for Title VI, similar to the boards that govern the Fulbright program, the National Security Education Program, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and other federally-supported educational and fellowship programs. Title VI is presently administered with a light hand by the Department of Education bureacracy, and money is disbursed through a peer-review process. All this is way too cozy and convenient for the academics, who have turned what began as a defense program into a semi-entitlement. A supervisory board would reestablish the exchange among academe, government, and society which is the intent of the law.

The academics won’t like another layer of accountability, but they’ll get used to it. In fact, one of them already has: Gilbert Merkx, a Latin Americanist and vice-provost at Duke, who is also co-chairman of the Council of Directors of Title VI National Resource Centers for Foreign Language and Area Studies. He also testified on Thursday, and offered strong support for Title VI. When asked by the chair of the Subcommittee panel for his view of a supervisory board, he said he didn’t favor the idea. But he added this:

If there is to be a review panel, I think it should be composed of the clients of the program, not of political appointees. I would recommend that there be an interagency group which would include representatives of the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, and other agencies like Homeland Security, which are the kinds of agencies that hire people with the skills we produce. Those other agencies could work with the Department of Education to see that these programs are producing the manpower required.

Professor Merkx, you’re on. The board (or panel) would need some appointees by the White House and Congress—after all, Title VI mandates “outreach” programs, and that makes the general public a “client” as well. But I’d be perfectly happy to have a board with a majority of members appointed ex officio from the agencies named by Merkx.

I urge the Subcommittee to build on the opening offered by Merkx in his testimony, and to begin to work on draft legislation for the establishment of a Title VI board. If you feel similarly, e-mail the Subcommittee chair, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan), at this address:


You can write him at this address:

Committee on Education and the Workforce
U. S. House of Representatives
2181 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

And you can fax him at this number: (202) 226-0779.