Gov’t threatens to control curriculum

The U’s Middle East Center could face either decreased federal funding or government-controlled curriculum in the future, based on whether a bill is passed.

Last year, the nation’s 17 Middle East Centers and 118 international studies centers received $86.2 million in federal funding called Title VI money.

Several critics of the curriculum taught within Middle East Centers are encouraging Congress to use that allocation as a bargaining chip to convince centers to adhere to a potential oversight committee implementation.

Administrations from the various centers have said there is no need for federal oversight.

Director of the U’s Middle East Center Ibrahim Karawan said the oversight committee would interfere with academic freedom.

Some critics believe the governmental oversight should follow with the funding.

“Because the vast majority of colleges and universities have become deeply dependent on the flow of funds from federal programs, they have also become vulnerable to the imposition of federal rules, many of which sprawl far beyond the actual funded programs,” wrote Peter Wood, professor of anthropology at Boston University.

The team of oversight advocates is calling on Congress to direct that federal money into building more reliably “patriotic” sources of Middle East expertise.

“Title VI-funded programs in Middle Eastern Studies [and other area studies] tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy,” Kurtz said. “By rewarding politically one-sided programs with gigantic funding increases, Congress is actually removing any incentive for deans and provosts to bring in faculty members with diverse perspectives. At this point, Title VI funding increases are only stifling free debate.”

However, many Middle East experts and students in the U’s Middle East studies program disagree.

National Security Education Program

Kurtz and his fellow scholars campaigning against what they see as a one-sided MESA organization also accused Title VI funded international centers of boycotting against National Security scholarship programs. That program assists students in their studies under the assumption that they will serve in military or intelligence capacities.

“Since 1981, the directors of Title VI African National Resource Centers have agreed not to apply for, accept, or recommend to students any military or intelligence funding from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSEP, or any other such source,” Kurtz wrote.

However, David Ward, president of the American Council on Education and a chief lobbyist for the higher education community, argued that the NSEP is strongly supported “and we know of no efforts to kill the program.”

Kurtz said representatives of Title VI-supported centers have attempted to legitimize a boycott of NSEP out of concern for their students’ safety under the assumption students could be harmed abroad if they are suspected of being spies. However, Kurtz wrote, “American scholars abroad are suspected of being spies, regardless of their funding source.”

He added that some universities, like Michigan State, actually warn students against applying for NSEP fellowships.

Karawan said he is open to the program and students should decide whether they participate or not. He affirmed that intelligence agencies should be supported because there are two options: to have “lousy, uninformed cadres who don’t know history and politics,” or to base intelligence on stronger grounds. Kurtz said the examples of other schools boycotting the NSEP program should prove the real intentions behind Title VI-funded centers.

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