Middle East studies in the News
Witnesses Debate Questions of Bias in International Studies Programs
Committee on Education and the Workforce
Washington, D.C. – Meeting to examine federally-funded international studies programs in American institutions of higher education, members of the House Subcommittee on Select Education today heard testimony from scholars, administrators, and education experts on recent questions about the teaching and scholarship practices in programs funded by Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Recent media accounts have detailed questions of bias in the programs, even suggesting that the teachings and practices could undermine American foreign policy. The subcommittee called the hearing to question stakeholders on both sides of the issue, and to evaluate the methods and purposes of the programs as the House prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
Title VI of the Higher Education Act authorizes funding for international education and foreign language studies, including grants used to establish area studies and foreign language centers. Though the purpose of such programs is to expand American understanding and appreciation of foreign cultures and languages, some critics have charged that the programs are fundamentally biased, and contain limited international perspectives, thereby stifling opportunities for open dialogue and learning. As the House this year prepares to reauthorize these and other programs in the Higher Education Act, Education & the Workforce Committee members intend to explore the purpose and effectiveness of Title VI-funded centers.
Leading the hearing, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) said, "Title VI programs reflect the priority placed by the federal government on diplomacy, national security, and trade competitiveness. International studies and education have become an increasingly important and relevant topic of conversation and consideration in higher education."
"However, with mounting global tensions, some programs under the Higher Education Act that support foreign language and area studies centers have recently attracted national attention and concern due to the perception of their teachings and policies," continued Gingrey.
Dr. Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, testified on his scholarly research and experience with Title VI programs, and what he describes as abuse of these federally-funded programs. "For some time now, in my writings on National Review Online, and in The Weekly Standard, I have criticized scholars who study the Middle East (and other areas of the world) for abusing Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Title VI-funded programs in Middle Eastern Studies (and other area studies) tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy," said Kurtz.
"To see this bias at work, consider the most influential theoretical perspective in area studies today. Post-colonial theory was founded by Columbia University professor of comparative literature, Edward Said. 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," continued Kurtz. "Said has condemned the United States, which he calls, ‘a stupid bully,' as a nation with a ‘history of reducing whole peoples, countries, and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust.' Said has also called for the International Criminal Court to prosecute Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, and General Wesley Clark as war criminals. According to Said, the genocidal actions of these American leaders make Slobodan Milosevic himself look like ‘a rank amateur in viciousness.'"
Kurtz continued his testimony by noting that he does not believe Title VI programs should be exclusively teaching pro-American perspectives, but that he encourages a broad range of ideas to ensure that foreign studies are providing students with exposure to multiple outlooks and varied viewpoints.
"Let me state clearly, however, that I am not arguing that authors like Edward Said ought to be banned from Title-VI-funded courses. My concern is that Title VI-funded centers too seldom balance readings from Edward Said and his like-minded colleagues with readings from authors who support American foreign policy," said Kurtz. "[U]nless steps are taken to balance university faculties with members who both support and oppose American foreign policy, the very purpose of free speech and academic freedom will have been defeated."
Terry Hartle, senior vice-president for the American Council on Education, disputed claims that bias exists in Title VI programs, and explained the role he sees for Title VI programs in higher education and American foreign policy. "Let me state emphatically and for the record that Title VI does not perpetuate, encourage or support monolithic viewpoints or ideologies. Spanning more than four decades, this program remains the federal government's most comprehensive and successful mechanism for supporting the production of the nation's expertise in foreign languages, and area and other international studies, including international business."
"Consistent with federal objectives, Title VI centers have played a central role in developing public understanding of economic, defense and foreign policy issues; in preparing diplomats and other experts in foreign affairs; and in providing critical analysis for national decision-making," continued Hartle. "The knowledge and capacity developed by Title VI and the individuals who have been trained by Title VI are a priceless national resource."
Vivien Stewart, vice president for education at Asia Society, a non-profit organization founded to promote greater understanding of Asia and the Pacific region, provided her perspectives on how aligning Title VI programs with K-12 education can help close the "international knowledge gap" existing in America. The international knowledge gap describes what many see as a fundamental lack of awareness of the cultural, sociological, political, and language perspectives of the rest of the world.
Referencing surveys conducted by Asia Society in 2001 and National Geographic Society/Roper in 2002, Stewart noted that, "25% of college-bound high schools students could not even name the ocean between California and Asia. 80% did not know that India is the world's largest democracy. In fact, young Americans are next to last in their knowledge of geography and international affairs compared with students from eight other industrial countries."
Describing the implications Title VI and international studies have for K-12 education, Stewart said, "In the past, international transactions were the domain of diplomats and international policy and business experts. Federal investment through Title VI therefore focused on the development of experts and languages in higher education. Today, a converging set of economic, demographic, and national security trends mean that all of our young people will need to acquire some international knowledge and skills in order to be successful as workers and citizens."
The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides an opportunity for Congress to evaluate the teaching and practices at Title VI-funded centers, and improve upon programs to ensure that the federal investment in international studies is providing an effective means to understanding multiple global perspectives in an increasingly small global community, noted Gingrey.Note: 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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