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.

Squeezing goobers in Congress

Yesterday, President Bush announced a new National Security Language Initiative, which has the potential to fix America’s debilitating deficit in foreign language proficiency in the military and government. I’ll say more about it later, but I’ve already been struck by a few of the reactions in Middle Eastern studies.

Consider this one. F. Gregory Gause III is a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Vermont, and member of the academic freedom committee of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). When my book Ivory Towers on Sand appeared in 2001, he wrote a critical review essay in Foreign Affairs. To my suggestion that Congress reexamine its subsidies to Middle Eastern studies, he offered this rejoinder, piously couched in the language of the national interest:

Now more than ever the United States has a compelling national interest in encouraging its citizens to study the difficult languages of the Muslim world, and that costs money…. In fact, given the lack of official linguistic capacity evident during the post-[9/11] attack crisis, the federal government’s current Middle Eastern studies funding priorities should be languages first, second, and third…. Only increased federal support can sustain and expand the language instruction necessary to turn students into the careful and knowledgeable observers that everyone wants them to be.

Gee, readers must have thought, here is a Middle Eastern studies prof who defies Kramer’s generalization, and who has our security at heart–the kind of clean-cut guy MESA might want to send up to Capitol Hill to lobby for Title VI money.

So what are we to make of Gause’s response to Bush’s new initiative, made yesterday in the comments section of a weblog?

In this country, where we even had to use “national defense” as the justification to build our interstate highway system, you just can’t squeeze enough money out of the mountebanks, charlatans, ideologues and goobers who represent us in Congress to fund these programs unless they can be sold as “national defense” (or now, “homeland security”).

Bingo. I’ve argued all along that the mandarins of Middle Eastern studies are scamming Congress. In public, they announce that they’re eager to put their shoulders to the wheel in the nation’s defense, if Congress comes up with the budgets. In private, they have nothing but contempt for the Congress that subsidizes them, and for the Congressional obligation to assure that America is defended and secure. They look down on elected representatives as a bunch of “goobers,” who can be efficiently “squeezed” for money by mouthing patriotic platitudes about “national security” (in sneering scare quotes).

The sad thing is that Gause is probably the best of the bunch. Unlike most of his colleagues, he’s willing to hold his nose and take taxpayers’ money even when it comes in defense packaging. The diehards around him would strangle any federal program for students who want to study languages in order to serve.

Well, I’m glad Gause has told us how he feels. I’ll be happy to convey his latest message to the appropriate charlatans on the Hill.

Confessions of a Scheming Vice Provost

A little over a year ago, USA Today ran an editorial against H.R. 3077, the Title VI reform bill for the program that lavishes federal subsidies on area studies in universities. (Readers of this space know that I’ve been an ardent supporter of Title VI reform, and particularly of an advisory board that would match the program’s priorities with national needs.) The premise of the editorial: Why, Title VI is humming along just fine! Take a look at the University of Michigan, for example. They’re helping the U.S. government to understand terrorism, and they’ve boosted their Arabic enrollments tenfold! Michigan and the others have their shoulders to the wheel, producing Arabic translators for government service! Can’t Congress just leave well enough alone, and trust the profs for a change?

The absurdities embedded in this editorial so incensed me that I had a response on this site before the newspaper landed on most doorsteps. Okay, take the University of Michigan for example, I wrote. Michigan’s Mideast faculty had refused to partner with the government in its flagship program for intensive Arabic study on campuses. The political rationale, as explained by one professor: “We didn’t want our students to be known as spies in training.”

So while Michigan was happy to suck Title VI dollars out of Washington for doctoral students who worship at their professors’ feet, they wouldn’t hear of training anyone for government service. As I put it: “Some prof or public relations official at Michigan duped the editors at USA Today into presenting the professors at Ann Arbor as team-players in the war on terror, when in fact they’ve refused to play ball.”

Now we learn who that Michigan prof was, because he’s written about the campaign he helped to run against H.R. 3077. He’s sociologist Michael D. Kennedy, an expert on Eastern Europe, and at the time he was vice provost for international affairs. Kennedy now claims to have inspired that USA Today editorial, as his contribution to the campaign run by dozens of deans and vice provosts across America.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that not everything in the editorial was factually true. “The numbers of Arabic language students increased,” Kennedy now writes, “but not tenfold.” That was a “mistake,” although it’s not clear who made it, and I saw no evidence at the time that Kennedy rushed to correct it. But this was only one small untruth in the parade of lies that marked academe’s campaign against H.R. 3077. It was almost more than I could do to keep up with the fabrications that poured forth from otherwise respectable academic leaders. The campaign taught me that when it comes to keeping their entitlements free of accountability, vice provosts are just as loose with the truth as tobacco lobbyists.

Kennedy’s account runs something like this. In 2003, Title VI came under “attack” from a band of politically-motivated marauders on the margins of Middle Eastern studies, who only wanted to “inflame political passions.” They got a lot more traction than they deserved, because their message plugged into popular discontent about bias in the universities. They’ve been beaten back, at least for now, due to “many people [who] worked very hard to put the cruder Title VI critiques in their proper place,” and thanks to that old stalwart, Sen. Ted Kennedy (no relation, I presume).

Still, warns Professor Kennedy, the “ideologues” could be back, so the best defense is to show that area studies are willing partners of government, that they aren’t averse to trading ideas with officials, that they really are relevant to issues of national security. “The debate about security,” Kennedy writes, “should move more toward the center of our academic missions.”

Professor Kennedy goes still further, arguing that there’s nothing wrong with academics who rub shoulders with national security agencies. “There are certainly some academic colleagues who would not approve of seminars involving the military, CIA, or even State Department officials,” Kennedy allows, “but then we also have colleagues who don’t approve when Shell executives come to town, or when students organize Palestinian Solidarity conferences, or when gay issues are taught in the class room.” In other words: so what?

Imagine! And from Ann Arbor! That’s a sign of real progress, and I and my fellow “ideologues” are pleased to seize some of the credit for it. It used to be that such contacts had to be concealed in shame. Now they’re paraded as evidence that federal subsidies are justified. That wouldn’t have happened were it not for the Title VI controversy.

So I’ll set aside Professor Kennedy’s pompous depiction of area studies as a seat of “analytical rigor and intellectual integrity,” as opposed to the “politicized ideology” represented by Title VI reform advocates like Stanley Kurtz and myself. That’s provost-speak. Politicized ideology runs rampant throughout area studies (think Columbia, or Juan Cole, University of… yes, Michigan). But if attacking us makes it easier for liberals on campus to justify government partnerships to the campus radicals—well, so be it. That’s academic politics. Kurtz and I can take it, as we take our bow.

P.S. Title VI reform, round two, looms just up the pike. I’ll say more shortly.