Mid­dle East stud­ies pro­gram scru­ti­nized

Uni­ver­si­ties’ use of Ti­tle VI funds un­der fire

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CHRISTO­PHER VONDRACEK

The De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion is in­creas­ing its scru­tiny of the Mid­dle East stud­ies pro­gram at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina and Duke Uni­ver­sity, which was ac­cused ear­lier this year of host­ing an anti-Semitic event.

In an Aug. 29 let­ter to the uni­ver­si­ties’ ad­min­is­tra­tors and trustees, As­sis­tant Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Robert King ac­cused the Duke-UNC Con­sor­tium for Mid­dle East Stud­ies of stray­ing from fed­eral grant goals to bol­ster for­eign lan­guage learn­ing and na­tional se­cu­rity.

In­stead, the con­sor­tium is spend­ing tax­payer funds to sup­port pro-LGBTQ course­work and hold Ira­nian film classes — stud­ies that serve “nar­row” ide­o­log­i­cal in­ter­ests, Mr. King said.

“Many of the top­ics and ti­tles listed un­der the area stud­ies sec­tion … have lit­tle or no rel­e­vance to Ti­tle VI,” reads the let­ter, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The Duke-UNC Con­sor­tium for Mid­dle East Stud­ies re­ceived $235,000 in Ti­tle VI grant money last year as a Na­tional Re­source Cen­ter for Mid­dle East stud­ies, ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s web­site. Ti­tle VI grants are to en­cour­age and de­velop for­eign lan­guage skills for eco­nomic and na­tional se­cu­rity.

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials say it is not clear how con­sor­tium pro­gram­ming, such as con­duct­ing a “Love and De­sire in Mod­ern Iran” class and host­ing an event ac­cused of spread­ing hos­til­ity to­ward Is­rael, meets that re­quire­ment.

“While the Duke-UNC CMES may cer­tainly of­fer pro­grams in Ira­nian art and film, th­ese pro­grams should not be funded or sub­si­dized in any way by Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers un­der Ti­tle VI un­less you are able to clearly demon­strate that such pro­grams are sec­ondary to more rig­or­ous course­work help­ing Amer­i­can stu­dents to be­come flu­ent Farsi speak­ers and to pre­pare for work in ar­eas of na­tional need,” Mr. King wrote.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Duke Uni­ver­sity de­clined a re­quest for com­ment.

A spokes­woman for the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina said in an email: “The uni­ver­sity has re­ceived the let­ter and will re­spond di­rectly to the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.”

Mr. King’s let­ter ar­rives months af­ter it was re­vealed that the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment was open­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of se­vere “anti-Is­rael bias” and anti-Semitic rhetoric at an April con­fer­ence about the Gaza con­flict co-spon­sored the Duke-UNC con­sor­tium.

UNC pre­vi­ously has said that only $200 of fed­eral grant funds were used for the April con­fer­ence, which fea­tured a per­for­mance by Pales­tinian rap­per Tamer Na­far. Film­maker and ac­tivist Ami Horowitz posted on­line clips of Mr. Na­far’s per­for­mance of his song, “Mama, I Fell in Love with a Jew.”

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials said the con­sor­tium’s fail­ure to meet Ti­tle VI goals was dis­cov­ered dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the con­fer­ence. They noted the pro­gram’s lack of tenured fac­ulty teach­ing lan­guage cour­ses and its low per­cent­age of stu­dents en­ter­ing gov­ern­ment po­si­tions (11%) ver­sus those pur­su­ing aca­demic ca­reers (35%).

The con­sor­tium also is ac­cused of em­pha­siz­ing the im­pact of re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion in the Mid­dle East on Mus­lims but not on other re­li­gious groups, such as Chris­tians or Jews.

The Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment di­rected UNC and Duke to pro­vide by Sept. 22 a sched­ule of pro­posed ac­tiv­i­ties, a list of classes and de­scribe how they will boost full-time fac­ulty teach­ing lan­guage cour­ses in or­der to re­ceive re­newed fund­ing.

More than $3 mil­lion in fed­eral Ti­tle VI funds — au­tho­rized by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — sup­port learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Na­tional Re­source Cen­ters, aca­demic cen­ters at U.S. col­leges for de­vel­op­ing lan­guage skills for tar­geted re­gions around the world.

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