In the last great struggle against a hostile ideology with global ambitions--the Cold War--this nation recognized the need for its young people to be equipped with skills in foreign languages, cultures, and regions. Early Soviet space and military programs created a sense of American vulnerability and the widely shared conviction that corrective action was needed.
Accordingly, in 1958, the United States adopted the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Its goal was to supply knowledgeable specialists to government, business, industry, and education. Today, under Title VI of the Higher Education Act (successor to the NDEA), the government allocates some $120 million to support regional studies centers on campuses around the country that specialize in such areas as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
As a result of the cumulative efforts of this federal investment over nearly five decades, the United States has developed a formidable regional studies industry. Unfortunately, that industry has, with few exceptions, scarcely supported the advancement of the original legislative objective--namely, "to ensure that the national security interests of our nation are being met." In time of war, it is simply unacceptable that the country's national security-related educational needs remain largely unmet, due to serious deficiencies in much of the curricula, values, and faculty of our federally subsidized regional studies centers.
As the need for those with Middle East language and regional skills reaches a historic high, universities--and particularly the Title VI-supported international studies centers--are failing spectacularly to meet that need.
- The FBI has such a serious shortfall in the number of available Arabic translators that it has 120,000 hours of pre-September 11 "chatter" still undeciphered.
- The dearth of Americans trained in relevant regional languages is so acute that law-enforcement and intelligence communities have been forced to "outsource" the work to foreign nationals, some of which are of uncertain reliability. One FBI whistleblower raised an alarm about the translation of critical wiretaps of organizations with suspected ties to Islamist terrorists: foreign nationals, relied on for these translations, were failing to translate accurately and expeditiously.
In an effort to remedy this dangerous lack of American expertise, Congress allocated additional funding of $20 million to the Title VI centers after September 11, 2001--a 26 percent increase. The legislators wrote this substantial check in good faith, with the understanding that these centers would promote language study, particularly in regard to "Islamic and/or Muslim culture, politics, religion and economy."
The increased spending, however, has not increased the output of the academic pipeline as intended. Dr. Martin Kramer, a recognized authority on regional studies centers, cited this representative example: "[Berkeley] has been continuously subsidized under Title VI for the last forty years. So you have to shake your head at reports that Berkeley has actually been cutting its introductory Arabic offerings for four years running, regularly leaving more than a hundred undergrads stuck on a waiting list."
The problems of international studies centers and American academia run deeper than funding allocations. The most serious of such problems arise, instead, from the radical politicization of universities that has been precipitated by academics and characterized by the routine abuse of their roles as educators and the quiet but consistent suppression of professorial dissent.
Deep-Rooted Troubles in the American Academy: Professors and Their Curricula
Although the radicalism of the 1960s may have been a passing phase in American society, it has left a lasting imprint on the academy in this country. Indeed, the professoriat is overwhelmingly populated with professors whose ideological rigidity has had the effect of largely driving dissent from the classroom. One utterly unfashionable--and thus unacceptable--concept on the contemporary campus is the traditional American belief in the universality of freedom and democracy.
The professoriat's contempt for this country, and particularly for American exceptionalism, has naturally been passed along to impressionable students. On many campuses, indeed, students' academic careers will suffer if they fail to reflect their professors' anti-American sentiments. They are often actively discouraged from supporting the war effort, thus depriving the country of the contributions of an enormous pool of able young people.
Taxpayers, of course, are underwriting the academic industry that actively discourages American students from properly understanding, let alone contributing to, the War for the Free World. Indeed, many of the professors who benefit most from Title VI funding have made no secret of their hostility toward this country's government and its policies and, in some flagrant cases, their sympathies for our foes. And these professors routinely use their bully pulpit to preach politics.
Arguably the most egregious example of this phenomenon was the late Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature Edward Said. His 1978 book, Orientalism, opened a Pandora's box of politicization. Orientalism quickly became the dominant intellectual prism through which many leading academics and their students came to view the world.
The Said paradigm--subsequently enhanced by the now-dominant intellectual fashion known as "post-colonial theory"--argued that the United States had become the successor to the European colonial powers. It was victimizing in particular the people of the Middle East through its oppressive exercise of power, both directly and indirectly through its proxy, Israel. This thesis encouraged many Americans studying in U.S. regional centers to believe that their country was responsible for inflicting immense psychological, economic, physical, and political damage on those it was "colonizing."
Said gained still greater currency and influence in the academy by denouncing professors who supported American foreign policy, comparing them with 19th-century European intellectuals who propped up racist colonial empires. The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power. He secured such a following that, before his death, it was said of him that he "is one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation."
Two other examples of tenured radicals abusing their position of trust to indoctrinate and place politics before scholarship are worth noting:
- At his podium, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole unabashedly preaches a virulent form of anti-Semitism. Cole teaches that the Iraq war was orchestrated by Jews on behalf of the Israeli government who wanted "someone else's boys to do the dying." To Cole, everything from the Sudan civil war to the Iranian nuclear crisis to the Iraq war is actually a plot conceived either in Israel or by American Jews in Washington.
- Professor Lisa Hajjar of the University of California at Santa Barbara, a recipient of Title VI funding, served on the self-appointed "world tribunal" that found Saddam Hussein innocent of war crimes and human rights abuses--and the United States guilty of both "war crimes" and "abuses of human rights" of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay. Dr. Hajjar defines her instructional goal as "debunking the false belief that Western history constitutes a progressive move from more to less torture."
The Effects of Politicized Universities
Not surprisingly, the infiltration of such anti-American indoctrination in regional studies centers has produced the opposite effect of what was intended by our national leaders. Instead of equipping and encouraging young people to pursue careers in support of the nation's security and intelligence needs, students are often actively discouraged from pursuing work in such fields.
Consider an official advertisement soliciting employment postings to run in the journal of the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America (MESA, a recipient of Title VI funding). It warns prospective advertisers that "MESA reserves the right to refuse ads it deems inappropriate or in conflict with MESA's objectives. MESA publications will not accept advertising from defense and intelligence related agencies from any government." The clear implication is that MESA--a federally funded entity, created with a primary objective to train and support the government's needs for Middle East expertise--believes that America's defense and intelligence agencies are at odds with MESA's objectives.
Due to the indoctrination provided by professors such as Edward Said, Juan Cole, and Lisa Hajjar and the environment cultivated by such radical thinkers, taxpayer-funded Middle East studies have continually produced students unable or unwilling to provide the skills the nation needs so desperately at the moment. Dr. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, summed up the situation in congressional testimony:
Many U.S. Middle East experts . . . provide a chorus of almost ritual criticism of any U.S. military role in the region, and any use of force. [They] generally do a far better job of speaking for the country, or countries, they study than for the U.S.
MESA has also engaged in an official boycott of another initiative aimed at meeting America's wartime needs: the National Security Education Program (NSEP). NSEP is a Pentagon-funded effort intended to develop a cadre of professionals to help the U.S. government "make sound decisions" on national security issues. The stated reason for the boycott is professors' concerns that students could be harmed abroad if they are suspected of being spies.
In fact, students do not have to disclose where the funding for their academic work comes from, nor are they required to perform any government-related service until after graduation. The MESA boycott is merely another instance of the ideological academic barricade, keeping students from cooperating with the American government.
As Dr. Kramer has observed, the opposition to NSEP by academics has more to do with the political biases of the professors than the welfare of the students. In his landmark study Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, he noted:
Not surprisingly the [NSEP] immediately became a rallying point for academic radicals of every stripe. They . . . conjured up the image of intelligence agencies sending tentacles into the academy and the mainstream area studies programs from the Department of Defense.
Compounding the effects of this pervasive ideological hostility, elite colleges also hinder the serious study of sensitive regions by forbidding students to study in areas that university administrators consider dangerous. For example, in the aftermath of September 11, many schools began to force students to avoid trouble spots and countries with State Department travel advisories. Such a prohibition handicaps a student's ability to gain full knowledge of a region, conflict, or language--thus, further hampering our expertise in these tumultuous regions.
The regional studies centers proselytize to other educators as well. For example, wellintentioned legislators stipulated that in order to receive Title VI funding, university professors must conduct "outreach seminars" to the community, in the form of workshops for teachers of kindergarten through 12th grade.
Often, these teachers are not well informed about the subjects addressed by regional studies programs. They tend to defer to the academic elite, namely, those teaching at the university level who are specialists in the field. The virus of anti-American ideology is thus methodically introduced into the American educational bloodstream at every level.
What Needs to Be Done
For American diplomacy, military, and intelligence services to function effectively during this War for the Free World, steps must to be taken to change the attitudes--and perhaps the personnel--associated with the politicized university system. For too long, we have failed to reap the vitally needed return on our investment in the regional studies centers. We simply can no longer afford to muddle through.
The following are the sorts of steps a War Footing will require us to adopt to ensure that this country develops the necessary knowledge and skills to understand, confront, and defeat America's enemies.
- Revise the tenure system. U.S. universities will not return to their core educational mission until the practice of tenure as we have known it is abolished. Although there must be protection for the free speech so necessary for the exploration of ideas, consideration needs to be given urgently to replacing tenure, at least in publicly funded centers, with long-term contracts as a practical compromise--for example, by establishing an escalating review and renewal process, evaluating scholarship and productivity at five-year intervals.
- Revise the hiring process. In order to prevent academia from becoming a wasteland of "group think," government-funded universities must break the monopoly of the hiring process. At present, candidates are evaluated solely by those academics within their particular field and mainly from a single department.
Such a process contributes to professors becoming echo chambers of each other's theories. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences can spend their entire careers communicating with only a handful of their peers, without having to subject themselves and their work to rigorous challenge from others who might give a more objective evaluation. In support of the war effort, it should be mandatory that academic evaluations involve professors from outside the professor's own discipline, with a view to inducing scholars to remain better grounded and well connected to a more realistic macro-picture.
- Cultivate foreign language experts. A priority must be placed on the rigorous study and mastery of relevant foreign languages. Area studies programs should not receive federal funding if their students are unable upon graduation to demonstrate proficiency in one or more of the foreign languages of interest to our current and prospective national security needs.
Many academics claim fluency--but practicality matters. If they cannot explain how to fix a clogged drain or change a flat tire in Arabic, Persian, or some other foreign language, then they are not fluent.
- Foster students' field research. Federally funded curricula should ensure that regional studies address the world as it is, not just politicized imaginings about foreign peoples, cultures, and religions. They should be encouraged, not discouraged, from undertaking educational travel to critical regions. As Margaret Thatcher once wrote, "We make a great mistake when we transpose our beliefs onto the rest of the world."
- Refuse foreign funding. Too many universities hesitate to offer programs sponsored by U.S. government agencies but happily accept money from foreign states whose interests are inimical to U.S. standards of democracy, liberalism, and human rights. For example, Georgetown University has accepted more than $1.2 million from the United Arab Emirates. Columbia University accepted money from Palestinian Authority and Saudi interests. Arab governments, in particular, and their registered agents spend money not for the sake of education but to buy influence. The absence of foreign funding for regional centers and other foreign-studies programs should become the hallmark of unbiased, neutral scholarship.
- Ground students in the American tradition. Our regional studies programs must root American students in an accurate appreciation of America. It is unacceptable to spend federal tax dollars to support curricula that amount to little more than indoctrination in a skewed and vehemently anti-American view of this country and the world. A core curriculum of the great American writers and thinkers should be included as contributing to the diverse strains and intellectual antecedents that have gone into making American foreign policy.
As long as our students are imbued, instead, with an education grounded in radical anti-Americanism, future generations will make foreign-policy decisions operating under the weight of misplaced guilt and moral ambiguity. We confront powerful forces that suffer no corresponding uncertainty about the rightness of their own cause and who are adept at exploiting the sometimes disabling divisions of a democracy.
For the duration of this War for the Free World, we need to restore among our youth a sense of America's outstanding moral, ethical, humanitarian, scientific, and intellectual contributions to the community of nations. We will need a wealth of such properly equipped students to fulfill diplomatic and other functions that rely on personnel with robust regional awareness, language skills, and well-developed common sense.
We should expect nothing less from our enormous investment in academic support for our diplomatic arsenal.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.
1. Another egregious example of academia's hindrance of the war effort is its attempt to deny military recruiters access to college campuses. (Such recruitment is critical to our ability to avoid conscription by maintaining an all-volunteer force; see Step 2.) Incredibly, it took an act of Congress to guarantee the military's admission, through the Solomon Amendment (1996), which bars institutions of higher education from receiving federal funding if they do not permit entrance to recruiters.
A coalition of academic and other antimilitary groups has nonetheless pursued a lawsuit--currently before the U.S. Supreme Court--seeking to declare the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional. The justification (namely, that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals in the armed forces violates the schools' nondiscrimination policies) is specious. (See Brief of Amici Curiae Admiral Charles S. Abbot, et al., Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, et al., 125 S. Ct. 1977 (2005) (No. 04-1152)). This case reflects, rather, the academy's determined hostility toward the military and American national security more generally.
2. Eric Lichtblau, "FBI Said to Lag on Translators of Terror Tapes," The New York Times, September 28, 2004.
3. On March 2, 2005, the whistleblower, Sibel Edmunds, testified before the House Committee on Government Reform, on the topic of "Problems with the FBI's translation unit involving criminal conduct against our national interests, potential espionage, serious security breaches threatening our intelligence, intentional mistranslation, and blocking of intelligence."
4. As quoted by Dr. Stanley Kurtz in a special briefing before the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, November 20, 2003. (For complete transcript, see http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/distribution/pos813.doc.)
5. See http://sandbox.blog-city.com/arabicoscandaloatoberkely.htm.
6. The pattern holds true also in reverse: junior faculty may suffer in the institutionalized student-feedback process, particularly at elite institutions, if they do not project the proper degree of leftist political concern.
7. Martin Kramer, "Congress Probes Middle East Centers," personal blog, June 23, 2003. Available at http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2003o06o23.htm.
8. Juan Cole, "Pentagon/Israel Spying Case Expands: Fomenting a War on Iran," Informed Comment, August 29, 2004.
9. Alex Joffe, "Juan Cole and the Decline of Middle Eastern Studies," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2006.
10. Steven Plaut, "The Jihadnik Prof of UC-Santa Barbara," FrontPageMag.com, June 7, 2005. Available at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=18236.
12. See http://fp.arizona.edu/mesassoc/advertising.htm.
13. As cited in Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand—The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001, p. 97.
14. Stanley Kurtz, "Ivory Scam" National Review Online, May 20, 2002.
15. Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand, op. cit., p. 94.
16. See http://chronicle.com/prm/daily/2004/07/2004072903n.htm.
17. See http://daily.nysun.com/Repository/getFiles.asp?Style=OliveXLib:ArticleToMail&Type=text/html&Path=NYS/2003/07/23&ID=Ar00103.