Middle East studies in the News
The battle over HR 3077 is boiling. HR 3077 — which has passed the House and is now before the Senate — would reform the system of federal subsidies to academic programs of area studies (such as Middle Eastern studies). Since 9/11, I've exposed the systematic abuse of these subsides by professors of area studies. And now, despite strenuous efforts to discredit my claims, the professors' cover-up has collapsed.
A courageous scholar of Africa, who I will soon name, has come forward to expose a secret campaign of intimidation designed to prevent America's budding foreign-language experts from serving in our desperately understaffed defense and intelligence agencies. Professors who are taking federal money on grounds of "national security" are doing everything in their power to prevent their colleagues and students from contributing to our national defense. And these professors have been systematically covering up the truth about their actions.
To appreciate our whistleblowers' chilling tales, you first need to know a bit about Title VI, the section of the Higher Education Act that establishes a special system of subsidies to academic programs of "area studies." From its origins in the National Defense Education Act of 1958, to the huge post-9/11 increase in federal subsidies, the Title VI program has been funded by Congress for the purpose of creating a pool of experts in foreign languages and cultures. The hope is that these experts might serve as recruits to positions in international business, the foreign service, the Peace Corps — and our defense and intelligence agencies. There is no doubt that 9/11 exposed a dire need in our defense and intelligence agencies for knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. And the beneficiaries of Title VI have been quick to exploit that need by promising to help solve the problem in return for more federal money.
Yet the truth is, many of the professors who benefit from Title VI subsidies are actively hostile to the idea of training students who might serve in our defense or intelligence agencies. Partly because the Title VI program was not producing sufficient recruits for our defense and intelligence agencies, in 1991 Congress, under the leadership of Senator David Boren (D., Okla.) enacted the National Security Education Program (NSEP), which established targeted scholarships and fellowships. Recipients of NSEP support are required to apply for positions in a national-security-related federal agency after graduation. So the NSEP is specifically designed to help fill a service gap that the original Title VI program was only partially addressing.
Good idea, right? You'd think so. Unfortunately, the NSEP, and other national-security-related scholarships, have been systematically boycotted by America's federally subsidized scholars. Supposedly, these boycotts are motivated by a desire to protect students from being viewed as spies when they study overseas. But as I've already shown, this claim is nothing but a cover for the politically motivated refusal of the boycotters to train their students to serve America's national-security interests.
In June of 2003, I testified before the House Subcommittee on Select Education about the determination of federally subsidized area-studies professors to boycott and undermine the National Security Education Program. At that hearing, top education lobbyist Terry Hartle, and Duke University Vice Provost for International Affairs Gilbert Merkx, responded to my charges with denial and obfuscation. Instead of defending the indefensible, Hartle and Merkx pretended that the boycott didn't exist.
Hartle denied that "colleges and universities" were trying to kill the NSEP, and Merkx denied that any Title VI centers were boycotting the NSEP. This was nothing but sleight of hand. For years, the Middle East, African, and Latin American-studies associations have called for a boycott of the NSEP, and other national-security scholarships. To get around that fact, Hartle said that no "colleges or universities" were boycotting the NSEP, and Merkx said that no actual Title VI-funded centers were boycotting.
But Hartle and Merkx's obfuscations weren't just misleading — they were dead wrong. For one thing, area-studies associations aren't the only entities that sponsor boycotts. When a university issues an official letter to students alerting them to a boycott and trying to discourage them from applying for a federal scholarship, then that university ought to be held responsible. And Gilbert Merkx's claim that no actual Title VI-centers boycott the NSEP was spectacularly false.
The most dramatic moment of the House hearing came when I revealed the existence of a memo written under the name of David Wiley — a professor of African studies, past president of the African Studies Association, and co-chairperson of the Council of Directors of Title VI National Resource Centers. The Wiley memo confirms that just two months after 9/11, Title VI African-studies-center directors voted unanimously "...not to apply for or accept military or intelligence funding, including from the NSEP." The memo went on to affirm that this boycott of the NSEP and other national-security-related scholarships was of long standing. So Merkx's testimony to the House was demonstrably false. Not only area-studies associations, but Title VI African-studies centers themselves had voted unanimously to boycott the NSEP. The very professors who've been taking federal funds on grounds of "national security" have been working to defeat a core purpose of their own subsidies.
But why had the directors of African-studies centers voted to reaffirm a boycott that had existed for years? The Wiley memo makes it clear: "...there is great dismay among all these Title VI center directors at the news that the National African Language Resource Center (NALRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has taken an NSEP institutional award. It was news that this award had been accepted that precipitated the formal reaffirmation of the boycott." In other words, Title VI African-studies centers came together to reaffirm their boycott because an African-language center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (hereafter the "Madison center") had decided to break the boycott and establish a relationship with the NSEP.
I learned all this in 2002, when I obtained a copy of the Wiley boycott memo. I immediately contacted Wiley himself and asked him if the Africanist vote to boycott the NSEP implied a shunning of the Madison center. Wiley said it did, and noted that his own faculty had already agreed in principle to break off all ties with the Madison center. (See my, "Ivory Scam.")
Since Wiley is a national coordinator of the Title VI program, a past president of the African Studies Association, and the man to whom Africanists turn to for information on the meaning and status of the NSEP boycott, I took his interpretation of the meaning of the unanimous 2001 vote to be definitive. On the basis of Wiley's answers, I have said that the Africanist vote in November of 2001 was not only a vote to boycott the NSEP, but was also a vote to punish and pressure the Madison center into breaking its ties with the NSEP.
Yet once it became clear that my expose of the Africanist boycott might prompt Congress to reform Title VI, a concerted campaign of denial and cover-up began. My initial expose of the boycott — featuring my interview with Wiley — came out in May of 2002. The House hearings on Title VI were held in June of 2003. In the interim, officials of Title VI, including David Wiley, began to ostentatiously cooperate with the Madison center. Since then, Title VI officials — including Wiley — have issued public denials of my claim that they have refused cooperation with the Madison center. (Remember, these denials by Wiley come despite his earlier admission to me that the 2001 vote did indeed mean ostracism for Madison.)
In short, in an effort to kill HR 3077, the higher-education lobby and the Title VI Africanist community is systematically denying that there is, or ever was, a boycott of either the NSEP, or of the African language center at Madison that dared to apply for an NSEP scholarship.
Yet compelling evidence now shows that there is in fact a campaign to force the Madison center to cut its ties with the NSEP. That evidence consists of e-mail correspondence between Wiley and the director of the Madison center, and the testimony of Eyamba Bokamba, professor of linguistics and African languages, and coordinator of the Title VI program in African languages at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Bokamba has courageously decided to tell the truth about the long-standing campaign to prevent Title VI-affiliated professors of African studies from establishing ties with the NSEP.
Bokamba attended the 2001 conference in Houston where the vote to reaffirm the Africanist boycott of the NSEP was taken. While Bokamba was not present at the actual vote, he quickly learned from his colleagues of plans to sanction the Madison center. And according to Bokamba, Wiley was the leader of the campaign to bring the Madison center to heel. "While Professor Wiley has been careful to make a public show of cooperation with [the Madison center], he has continued nonetheless to threaten that center with a boycott if it does not sever all ties to the NSEP." Bokamba continues: "Professor Wiley has persistently engaged in a campaign of harassment against Professor Antonia Schleicher [director of the Madison center]. He has repeatedly asked her in writing and at every face-to-face encounter to promise never to apply for or accept any grant from the NSEP again."
So after the unanimous 2001 vote of Title VI African-studies-center directors to boycott the NSEP, there does indeed seem to have been a concerted effort to punish and shun the Madison center. Bokamba learned of these plans, and Wiley himself confirmed them to me in his 2002 interview. And we know from a 2002 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that the Madison center did in fact feel the pressure. In that article, Antonia Schleicher, director of the Madison center, reports that African-studies scholars had begun to give her the cold shoulder.
Yet it's also clear that, at a certain point, it became difficult to openly punish the Madison center. Bokamba says that Wiley and "a small but vocal circle of followers habitually use pressure tactics to intimidate dissenters" into cutting ties with the NSEP. But while Wiley and his followers clearly took the 2001 vote as a decision to punish Madison, there may have been other Africanists who did not. More important, by mid-2002, my own writings exposing the African-studies boycott had put Wiley and the Title VI African-studies-center directors into an awkward position. So now the campaign to pressure the Madison center into breaking its ties with the NSEP went underground. And the efforts to discredit me went into high gear.
I have copies of several e-mail messages from Wiley to Schleicher (director of the Madison center). In these messages, Wiley appears to offer Schleicher his cooperation. Yet Wiley makes it clear that his offer of cooperation is conditioned on Schleicher's willingness to cut her ties with the NSEP. In one remarkable letter, Wiley suggests that Schleicher should publicly disavow my claims that Title VI Africanists are pressuring her into cutting her ties with the NSEP. Trouble is, in the very same letter, Wiley pressures Schleicher to cut her ties with the NSEP!
In another letter, Wiley offers Schleicher a public gesture of approval — service on her center's board of directors. Obviously, if the head of the Title VI Africa program, and the leader of the NSEP boycott, were to serve on Schleicher's board, it would be a sign of approval that would end any efforts at retaliation against Schleicher. But here is Wiley's condition: "I definitely would be willing [to serve on your Board] if you were not taking NSEP awards and joined all the other Africanist centers and programs in this agreement for the future."
So David Wiley, a professor of African studies and a high official of the Title VI program, has led a secret campaign of harassment and pressure designed to force a Title VI center to cut its ties with the NSEP. And it is equally clear that Wiley's attempts to deny this — and to discredit me — are nothing but a coverup of the truth.
This story suggests several questions. First, given the existing public scandal over his actions — and the fact that he would like nothing more than to defeat HR 3077 — why did Wiley put himself at risk by continuing to pressure Antonia Schleicher to cut her ties to the NSEP? Why didn't Wiley and his followers back off of Schleicher privately, as well as publicly — at least until the fate of HR 3077 had been settled?
Bokamba makes the answer clear. He tells me that Antonia Schleicher is by no means the only Africanist who would like to work with the NSEP. Bokamba says there are other Africanists, himself included, who would apply for NSEP institutional grants were it not for "fear of being ostracized by the Africanist sub-community that follows Professor Wiley's leadership." So Wiley must have known that he couldn't put aside his campaign of intimidation, even while hoping to defeat HR 3077. He must have realized that, had the Madison center been allowed to cooperate with the NSEP, others would quickly follow. And that would have effectively ended the boycott.
Here's another important question. How much of all this has been known to the higher-education lobby, and to Title VI officials like Merkx, who have so smoothly assured Congress that no Africanist boycott exists?
And why has Wiley been permitted to remain as a high official of Title VI? Where has the Department of Education been? Given my publications and congressional testimony, why has the Department of Education made no effort to get to the bottom of the boycott? We shouldn't have to rely on columnists and whistleblowers to get at the truth. Clearly, some additional institutional mechanism is needed.
The shameful story of the Africanist boycott of the NSEP; the campaign of harassment against the Madison center; and the cover-up of it all, shows that the Senate must pass HR 3077. It's obvious that Title VI program is broken. HR 3077 would establish an independent Advisory Board to monitor the program, foster intellectual diversity, and restore freedom of choice to scholars who wish to apply for NSEP and related funding. Like all other federal scholarship programs, Title VI used to have a board. The board should never have been eliminated. Obviously, in the absence of a board, serious abuse has flourished.
Opponents of HR 3077 claim that an advisory board will inhibit academic freedom. That is nonsense, as I've explained. Yet it's clear that there is a serious threat to the academic freedom from politically motivated harassment and intimidation. Unfortunately, that threat comes from some of the very folks who are currently beneficiaries of Title VI supportNote: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: email@example.com