Middle East studies program scrutinized
Universities’ use of Title VI funds under fire
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.