Middle East studies in the News
Federal Funding for Harvard Declines
by Radhika Jain and Kevin J. Wu
Following a nearly 50 percent reduction in federal funding, several of Harvard's regional centers have been forced to rely on alternative sources of funding—including individual endowments and support from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—to maintain the quality of the academic and extracurricular opportunities offered to students.
"We're giving less support to students, and to some extent making it up from other sources," said Professor Andrew D. Gordon, director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies. "But some people are not getting the funds they need."
Four of Harvard's centers for regional studies—the Committee on African Studies, the Asia Center, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies—are recipients of Title VI grants from the Department of Education.
But Title VI grants were cut by 46% for the current academic year after Congressional debates last year. They will remain at that level for the upcoming fiscal year as well, according to Alexandra M. Vacroux, executive director of the Davis Center. Vacroux said the Title VI grant represented approximately 17 to 18 percent of the Davis Center's budget—an amount that has since decreased to less than ten percent.
Similarly, the Reischauer Institute, which was receiving about $500,000 dollars of federal grant money a year in the form of Fulbright-Hayes grants and Foreign Language and Areas Studies fellowship programs, saw that funding slashed in half, according to institute director Andrew Gordon.
The cuts in funding have affected language training programs, course offerings, and scholarships, said Professor Ali Asani, member of the Standing Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.
Meanwhile, some institutes like the Reischauer Institute have also reduced the number of postdoctoral fellowships and invited fewer guest speakers in order to cope with lower budgets, added Gordon.
"It's a big issue for international centers across the country," said William C. Kirby, director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. "The federal government since the 1950s has funded graduate fellowships to train the next generation of professors in international studies."
Title VI grants, which date back to the Cold War period, are awarded to undergraduate and graduate programs in foreign language or area studies through an application process that takes place every four years.
But Kirby said he thinks the federal cuts have been misguided.
"On the one hand these are long—standing grants—it's understandable if they were to be changed into some new or different approaches," he said. "But sadly it just seems that they've been slashed to be slashed."
Regional centers experienced cuts in federal funding even before Title VI grants were reduced.
For example, the Social Science Research Council funded grants for the Ukrainian Research Institute until five years ago, when their funding from the Department of Education was cut, according to Executive Director Tymish J. Holowinsky.
"We have maintained the program as best we could," he said.
The Ukrainian Research Institute, like most of the regional centers on campus, has relied increasingly on its own endowment. Endowments were first established by individual patrons or private foundations upon the founding of most centers, and include monies brought in by private donors from around the world as well as foreign governments.
The Fairbank Center has even raised its own funds to support titled professorships, "in order to ensure that there would be a permanent cadre of professors in what we believe to be critical areas," said Kirby.
The reduced financial support from the federal government has meant that centers have had to dip into their own endowments more than usual. In some cases, the FAS has served as a source of aid, funding tutorials and language courses that would otherwise be cut, Vacroux and Asani both said.
Because centers did not find out about Title VI cuts until early in the summer of 2011—after they had already finalized budgets for the upcoming year—the FAS went "outside of the normal budget process" to provide support, Vacroux added.
Overall, however, funding from the FAS for regional centers has fallen since the economic crisis in 2008, when regional centers were asked to redirect part of their own endowmentNote: 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.
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