Middle East studies in the News
Congress Moves to Regulate Postcolonial Studies
by Michael Bednar
Congress Moves to Regulate Postcolonial Studies
As many of you who know me well will soon realize, I have become a political activist for the first time in my life. I am not here to rant, but to inform you on current legislation that is being debated in the House of Representatives. The legislation in question, H.R. 3077, will rewrite the Title VI legislation that has provided FLAS money to many of us and that also funds the various area-studies centers in our universities. In particular, the legislation proposes the creation of an "advisory board" that may severely impact universities by dictating the curricula taught, course materials assigned in class, and the faculty who are hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding. It gets worse. The U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on Select Education Hearing on "International Programs in Higher Education and Questions about Bias" on June 19, 2003 (http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/108th/sed/titlevi61903/wl61903.htm) begins with an opening statement by Representative Phil Gringrey that includes the following passage: "we are here today to learn more about a number of programs that are authorized and funded under Title VI, which are some of the oldest programs of support to higher education. These 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." Testimony provided by Dr. Stanley Kurtz (available from the link above) portrays areas studies centers as hotbeds of unpatriotic anti-Americanism. Dr. Kurtz focuses, in particular, on post-colonial theory and the work of Edward Said's Orientalism in which "Said equated professors who support American foreign policy with the 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." (quoted from Kurtz's statement found at http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/108th/sed/titlevi61903/kurtz.htm)
Kurtz asserts that the rampant presence of post-colonial theory in academic circles, with its bias against America and the West, has produced a corps of professors who refuse to instruct or support (with FLAS grants) students interested in pursuing careers in the foreign service and/or intelligence agencies. Kurtz comments that: "We know that transmissions from the September 11 highjackers [sic] went untranslated for want of Arabic speakers in our intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our defense and intelligence agencies, the directors of the Title VI African studies centers who voted unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm their boycott of the NSEP [National Security education Program], have all acted to undermine America's national security, and its foreign policy. And so has every other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin American-, African-, and Middle Eastern Studies who has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP." The answer, Kurtz proposes, is to create an oversight board that will link Title VI funding to students training for careers in national security, defense and intelligence agencies, and the Foreign Service. How effective was Dr. Kurtz's presentation? The committee not only believed everything Dr. Kurtz claimed, they even implemented most of his suggestions, including the "advisory board." An amended House Resolution, H.R. 3077, proposes to create an International Education Advisory Board, with appointed members from homeland security, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency, "to increase accountability by providing advice, counsel, and recommendations to Congress on international education issues for higher education." (Quoted from the Sept. 19, 2003 press release of Congressman John Boehner, committee chairman, http://edworkforce.house.gov/press/press108/09sep/hr3077psub091703.htm) The full resolution of H.R. 3077 can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.3077 H.R. 3077 was amended in subcommittee and this amended resolution elaborates on the composition and role of the International Education Advisory Board (see especially pages 16-24). The amended H.R. 3077 can be found at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/markups/108th/sed/hr3077/917main.htm . Click on the link that says "Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute" which will download an Adobe Acrobat pdf file. This amended H.R. 3077 has been sentto the full committee, which met on Thursday, September 25 at 11:00 AM to discuss the resolution before sending it to the House of Representatives.
Just in case you think that I have lost my marbles or that I am over-reacting, the Higher Education and National Affairs newsletter, published by the American Council on Education, and available at http://www.acenet.edu/hena/ includes the following comments on H.R. 3077 (page 1, continued on page 4): "House Republicans intend for H.R. 3077 to build on existing international and foreign language studies Title VI programs, adding what many in the higher education community believe is unnecessary federal oversight through a new International Education Advisory Board." Federal international education programs were the focus of a House subcommittee hearing in June, during which one witness testified to a strong "anti-American" bias in many college and university international departments which he claimed could possibly undermine American foreign policy. ACE presented opposing testimony (see http://www.acenet.edu/washington/international/Hartle.Testimony.pdf) . As a subcommittee press release asserted, this advisory body would be created in consultation with homeland security agencies in order to "increase accountability by providing advice, counsel, and recommendations to Congress on international education issues for higher education." Higher education leaders oppose this board on the grounds that the powers it is granted are so broad that they put institutions in danger of losing control over their own curricula, hiring practices, and other aspects of their international programs." In short, it seems that the House of Representatives is about to regulate the courses and content that we, as future professors, will teach in colleges and universities. The possibility that someone in homeland security will instruct college professors (with Ph.D.s) on the proper, patriotic, "American-friendly" textbooks that may be used in class scares and outrages me. This morning, this was news to me. If this is new to you and if you feel as equally scared and angered that the government may censure your future academic career, then I urge you to: 1) Distribute this message to other professors and students in area studies; and 2) Write a handwritten letter (in ink) to your local congressmen and to John A. Boehner, Chairman of the Full Committee on Education and the Workforce at the following address
The Honorable John A. Boehner
Please refrain from emails and typewritten or computer printouts as these are often ignored in Congress as being mass-produced by special-interest groups. Write in ink, in legible penmanship, and let your voice be heard.
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