Middle East studies in the News
Stanley Kurtz and Rashid Khalidi Debate H.R. 3077
Larry Mantle, Moderator: Please tell us why you think this particular board would be essential or necessary for programs that receive federal funding.
Stanley Kurtz, Hoover Institution: Well Larry, as I see it, the problem is that we have a group of professors that as a whole are bitterly opposed to American foreign policy. Now the interesting this is that these same professors are going to congress and saying, "give us special federal subsidies and we will help protect the national security." Now how will we do that? First by just giving people general knowledge about areas of the world that are of strategic interest to the United States, but more specifically, by helping to train students with an expertise in languages and places like the Middle East who will go and staff our defense and intelligence agencies. Who will, for example, translate the transmissions of potential hijackers? Now when congress appropriates this money, the professors in question do everything in their power to prevent their students from going into the service of the federal government.
Moderator: Lets talk specifically, about how long has this funding been provided by the federal government, and then secondly, how many students have come out of these programs to go on and work in these areas of national service.
Kurtz: Well I can't give you the exact number of years but it certainly goes back many decades. And in its origin this program was called the National Defense Language Initiative, and it was very closely tied to defense issues, and the stress was overwhelmingly on language competence. What we know now is that we have serious gaps in language competence, and we have had a number of reports sponsored by the federal government that say that language competence is actually diminishing. But what I think is the crucial fact here is that there are both formal and secret boycotts being leveled by various area studies associations against national security related scholarship. We even had a case at the U. of Wisconsin Madison, where a Title VI that applied for what is called a National Security Education Program fellowship in African studies, and the Title VI African studies centers secretly got together and decided to effectively boycott and destroy that program. Here we have professors that are taking money from the federal government to allegedly help train students for our defense and intelligence agencies, and when one of their programs applies for a special scholarship to help them do that, these professors try to break that program.
Moderator: What I'm wondering is that money is allocated by congress to provide this kind of specialized education to students who then might then go on to serve the United States in a variety of different endeavors. Now are there actual numbers you can look at and say for this level of expenditure here's how many students are not boycotting this program and are going to work for the state department or the military or other ways that benefit the country.
Kurtz: Well I don't think we have good absolute numbers on that. But another problem is that it is difficult to measure who doesn't go to serve the government because there is a boycott. We know that there are boycotts and letters go out for example from programs that are funded by Title VI money. These letters actively try to discourage students. They warn that their safety will be at danger, which is quite false in my opinion; they make it clear that there could be career consequences if they go and accept these types of national security related fellowships. How does one measure how many students are discouraged? And what we do know now is that we have a serious deficit, and we also know that language competence is decreasing, and this is probably one of the most important things we must have to have translators and what not. So we already have enough evidence I think to say that there is a serious problem here. And one of the things that an advisory board would so is allow us to collect that kind of information. And let me add Larry, that it is absolutely the norm for federal scholarship programs to have advisory boards. The flagship federal scholarship program for foreign study is called the Fulbright Program; that has an advisory board. The national security education program I mentioned has an advisory board, the Woodrow Wilson Institution has an advisory board, the United States Institute of Peace has an advisory board.
Moderator: So you're saying that this is the norm: that when these types of federal dollars that are allocated they are followed up by some sort of advisory board to make sure that the money is being appropriately spent.
Kurtz: Absolutely. The unusual thing is that this does not have an advisory board.
Moderator: Stanley Kurtz with us, research fellow at Stanford's Hoover institution, contributing editor to National Review Online. Joining us now, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Rashid Khalidi. Professor Khalidi, thank you very much for joining us.
Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University: My pleasure.
Moderator: For this proposal, you're obviously very much against it, and my general question though is that do you agree to the contention that there is anti-American bias when it comes to how foreign policy is discussed in these programs?
Khalidi: I think that that is a very dangerous idea. I think that saying that we should have advocates of U.S. foreign policy teaching the history and the politics and whatever of a region means that academics should not teach whatever their training and understanding of a region teaches them, but whatever the partisan foreign policy of a given administration is. That is a recipe for blind folly in my opinion.
Moderator: I don't think that anyone is arguing that they should be all proponents of US foreign policy. The issue is balance.
Khalidi: I think that the argument, which is not true in fact, that we all oppose the US foreign policy, implies that we should all or most of us or many of us be blind advocates of the foreign policy of a given administration. I would argue that the job of academics is to teach the facts and realities as they understand them. Not to follow blindly whatever foreign policy that the United States may be following in a given region at a given moment. I would argue further, that if we do our job properly, and teach understanding of these regions and teach the history, we are doing something that cannot possibly be anti-American. I think that it is anti-American to demand a certain point of view. We are serving our country by trying to help explain as best we can the language history culture religion and so forth of these regions and how their history has interacted with our country's history. And frankly, the proponents of this kind of measure are trying to impose their own views on an academy that for their own reasons probably don't agree with some of them, but many of their members do. And I think this should be left up to the academic institutions. And let me make a response to something Mr. Kurtz said. Which is that in fact most of the money that the federal government is putting into area studies and Title VI, the overwhelming majority of it is going into language instruction. Here of the 400 odd thousand dollars, more than 270 thousand is going towards language instruction and fellowships for students and so on. Moreover, it is entirely untrue that we do not encourage our students to work for the US government. I am the poster boy for some of the people attacking the Middle East field, and many many many of my former students are working for the US government and with my encouragement. I think that essentially we are facing a load of red herrings here. Almost everything that is said by the advocates of this measure needs to be critically scrutinized. Of course there are boards for the Fulbright and for the Wilson Center. But those are independent institutions and are not part of Academia. What they want to do is institute politically appointed boards that have a voice in some sense of a deciding point on curriculum, and I think this puts the universities in a very difficult position.
Moderator: We're talking with Rashid Khalidi, Professor of Arab Studies at the Middle East Institute at Columbia. And Stanley Kurtz is with us as well; Dr Kurtz is a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Dr. Kurtz, I know from our own efforts to put together programs on foreign policy here on "AirTalk," that of course it's very easy to find liberals that are very critical of American foreign policy on Universities. It is much more difficult to find those with a more conservative pro-American foreign policy perspective. And I was wondering, with this legislation and your criticism trying to fight what is kind of a built in uphill battle, that American institutions of higher learning are inherently liberal; they tend to take positions that are pretty critical of American foreign policy, and that's just the way it is.
Kurtz: Well Larry, I don't feel that that's just the way it is. I feel like that it's gotten more that way since the 60's. But I would like to make a few comments to tie in on this issue and then respond to a few things professor Khalidi said. First of all, most of the opponents of this bill, neglect to mention that the bill itself directly says that nothing in this title is to be construed to authorize the international advisory board to mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education's specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of construction. It is simply not true that this board is going to control college curriculum. The truth is, other than language classes themselves; Title VI doesn't really fund classroom activity. What title VI does is help to fund graduate students, and public outreach programs. These are not college classes. These are not part of the college curriculum. These are events, generally public events that are held for quite typically kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in a given area that exposes these teachers to various viewpoints on the Middle East or other areas of the world.
Moderator: so you're saying those specialized programs have bias in them, you're not talking about what goes on in the classroom with college students.
Kurtz: Well I certainly do think that there is bias in the classroom, and I hope that changes. I think this bill may have indirect trickle down effects to help change that, but it really doesn't do anything to control classroom activity. I do think that this bill would have a real effect on these congressionally mandated public outreach programs, that we have had no oversight on and really aren't part of the university curriculum. And here we have seen the bias that is familiar in the college classroom has trickled down to the outreach programs. And it really is unfair, I think, to ask the American taxpayer to be subsidizing public outreach to these K-12 teachers on its own dime, that have nothing to do with college classrooms, and then basically have these programs teaching K-12 teachers to oppose American foreign policy. Now I'm not against having readings from opponents of American foreign policy by the way, I would just like to see some balance in these outreach programs.
Moderator: How from a practical standpoint would that work? So lets say that you have these outreach programs, and that your contention is accurate, for the sake of conversation, that they are all very left wing very critical of American foreign policy; these presenters that are part of these outreach programs, and you have an advisory board over seeing it. Now how would this work? What would an advisory board do to deal with an issue?
Kurtz: Now it's interesting, because this advisory board is an advisory board, it is not a supervisory board. It has no power other than to make recommendations. The real power remains in the hands of the Department of Education. And let me make it clear, there are well upwards of 125 programs of Middle East studies in the United States, only 17 of which are getting these subsidies. Now I don't think it would be difficult at all to find places that have a great track record of having public outreach programs that present many different points of view, and they will have a leg up when it comes to the competition of receiving these subsidies, and I think this is very doable.
Moderator: (Lead into break and asking for callers) Is this a kind of McCarthyism as opponents are calling it, or is this an effort to try and help taxpayers from spending their money on programs that are a detriment to American interests, as opponents of the bill call it?
Moderator: (lead in from commercial) We're talking with Prof. Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University, where he is Edward Said Professor of Arab studies at the Middle East Institute, and Stanley Kurtz, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who is also a contributing editor of National Review Online. Dr. Khalidi, back to you for your response to the points made by Dr. Kurtz.
Khalidi: A couple of responses, the first is, is that outreach, which is a priority for the Department of Education and for these centers, is a fraction of the budget of over a 200,000 budget, 6,000 something goes into outreach, and what is done in outreach has nothing to do with the fantasies of Mr. Kurtz and his friends. It's basic education for teachers who are teaching basic things, geography, history -- nobody is pumping their heads full of the kinds of things they're talking about. There is one case that they have raised, which as far as I understand it, led to the suspension of the people who introduced it at a university out west. But by and large, what is conveyed in this outreach is basic solid facts that teachers need to teach their students about these regions. The other thing that I would mention is that this idea that university's are liberal means that we are only looking at one part of the universities. I think it may be true of many humanities departments and some social science departments, but universities include business schools, law schools, economics departments, science faculties and many other social science departments that tend to be conservative. And I think that the idea of applying an ideological litmus test of any sort, whether on business schools or English departments, is heinous, it's reprehensible.
Moderator: Do you have any concern by the fact that, we'll we see this in public radio for example. Public radio is much more attractive for liberal journalists to come and work in public radio, its perceived to be a friendly environment, and this is an issue that public radio has that public radio has a problem in attracting those with a conservative bent to come to work. Do you not see that as an issue when you're talking about something as important as foreign affairs, that it is hard to attract people to the field who have diverse views
Khalidi: Well I actually think that is completely false. If you take the places were foreign policy is taught, take the school of international public affairs here, take the School of Advanced International Studies at Hopkins, take the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, take the Kennedy School at Harvard, they are full of practitioners, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals who worked in government, and who are hands-on realists, as far as I'm concerned all of them repeat more or less the same thing, I would make a critique of them that they are incapable of giving us imaginative ideas of American foreign policy because most of them have been implicated in whatever has been done over the last couple decades. So I really think that root and branch, this is completely false. Yes in the English departments or yes in this and that departments there may be wild critics of American foreign policy. But where these policies are actually taught in the political science departments, in these schools of international and public affairs, I would say you have centrists, ranging from center-right to center-center. And very very few if any leftists. And I think that to some extent these types of fields draw the kinds of people they draw. Public radio may draw more liberal types, while certain types of talk radio and shout television draw more conservative types. And viewers and listeners will gravitate towards what they find congenial. You want to read National Review, you want to read The Nation, and you're free. God bless this country that allows us to do that. But I really think this assault on people who are critics on American foreign policy ignores the fact that anyone that looks very carefully at American foreign policy in the Middle East for example, and understands in depth the way this region has functioned over the last few decades, is very likely to come up with some critical observations. It's very hard not to do that. Yet I would reiterate: you can go to the foreign policy schools and you will find very few people that are critical. So those who do not want to hear anything that will disturb their precious equilibrium can always go to many many places and have whatever they believe reinforced.
Moderator: Stanley Kurtz, what are the arguments about US foreign policy in the Middle East that in your view are going unmentioned or untaught in these programs?
Kurtz: Well Larry, first I would like to respond to some of the things that were said. I mean if you want examples of people who I feel do not get enough play, someone like Bernard Lewis and his students and followers, who are widely known by the general American public, it is very hard to find any of his followers in programs of Middle East studies, and they have been delegitimized by the followers of Edward Said as supposedly some sort of anti-Muslim bigots, by using this word "Orientalism" which is a favorite word of post-colonial theorists who dominate Middle Eastern studies. But I want to come back to this question of bias and self-selection. I think that there is something much more than self-selection going on here. And I would refer you to a report in 1996, and remember this is about all area studies, not just Middle Eastern studies, a report by the Ford Foundation in 1996 on African studies, and according to this report, and of course the Ford Foundation is hardly a conservative group, a political litmus test, and these are the words of the Ford report, was created by these boycotts of national security fellowships, and because of that, supporters of American foreign policy in the 1980s, according to this report, essentially had to leave the field of African studies. So here we have a liberal group, perfectly respectable, which is saying that this isn't just a question of self-selection, but that the political litmus test has already been imposed from inside academia. Whereas this bill, contrary to what has been said, does not impose a political litmus test on any faculty member, it does not affect any professor's autonomy in his classroom, it does not force any college or university to hire anyone. I do hope that on the one hand, when outreach programs which are federally mandated and not part of the college curriculum, are balanced, and when there is an incentive to balance your outreach programs, and when colleges and universities are judged a little more closely on how many students they actually do turn out who go into government service, that will create a kind of incentive. Not a mandate or a litmus test, but an incentive for maybe a loosening up of the faculty and to maybe bringing in of some of the people that were pushed out in the 80's.
Moderator: I appreciate what you're talking about with Bernard Lewis, and that someone like that would not get taught in these programs. But for some of us who are not familiar with that, what specific arguments, would it be the argument for example that well, Arabs have brought much of these problems in the Middle East upon themselves and that the US has been scapegoat and the US really hasn't behaved that badly in most of these cases but the US gets blamed for things that are not the US's fault. What would these arguments sound like?
Kurtz: Well I think you're exactly right Larry. Obviously you've done some reading. First of all, let me touch back on this question of the outreach programs, to say that we've given a number of examples, not simply the one example that I think was referred to at the University of California Santa Barbara. But the University of California Santa Barbara had an outreach program in which they had a reader that was almost exclusively opposed to American foreign policy going out to K-12 teachers, and a section of that reader was called "why do they hate us" and in that section, all of the readings were essentially arguing that the reason they hate us, quote unquote, is because of American foreign policy and how bad it is. Whereas Bernard Lewis, and many of the followers of Bernard Lewis, argue that the United States is essentially being scapegoated, not because of its actual foreign policy, but because we are a convenient target for societies that are having troubles with their own internal situations to place the blame on someone. And that is an important argument, and there is a lot to be said on both sides, and that is an argument that which I think ideally would be taking place within the halls of college campuses, and not between the college campuses and the rest of the country.
Moderator: Professor Khalidi, your response.
Khalidi: Oh it's so hard. The followers of Bernard Lewis, some of them do teach in universities. Some of them are people who couldn't get jobs, probably due to their academic qualifications. There is one of them that has been attacking me and some of my colleagues ruthlessly, and I think that before his political views were known he couldn't get a job. To some extent, as I said once before, I think this is the sourest of sour grapes, for people who couldn't get jobs not because of their politics but because of their scholarship. As far as this issue of the followers of Edward Said, I have been at two major American research universities in the last twenty years, a tenured faculty member, here at Columbia and at Chicago, and I know many senior faculty members in the Middle East Field that will have no truck with Edward Said. They don't like Edward Said, or didn't like his views. He has nothing like the influence that the wild-eyed advocates of this bill claim. Quite the contrary: people can take him or people can leave him. He has actually had much more influence in fields like literary studies and anthropology than he has had in the Middle East field. And I think finally, to say that we need to have a diversity of views in the academy is absolutely correct. But to say that we have to have people who say that that the United States is blameless in its actions in the Middle East -- well, I think that we have to have people who look at these things and come up with the conclusions that they come up with on the basis of the criteria that their colleagues will judge. Middle East historians and Middle East political scientists are not judged by Middle East faculties. In most universities, there aren't Middle East departments; there are departments of history or political science or whatever. And those people will judge our arguments on the basis of their merits. And that is the beef with some of these people. They can't get their arguments through on their merits in groups that are not dominated by Middle East faculty or advocates of Edward Said.
Moderator: Let's hear from a listener: Joe from Altadena, let's hear your comments on this issue.
Joe (Caller): Thank you for taking my call, I'm glad to add some actual life experience on this issue. I'm a PhD student at UCLA and I'm receiving a title VI this year, not to study a Middle Eastern language but a Balkan language, and the way he described title VI is not accurate. There is no requirement to work for the government upon completing your PhD. In fact that's not the purpose of receiving a title VI. The purpose is to help give PhD students language training and area studies training, because along with the language I also have to take one course per quarter in the area of the Balkans, be it economics or history, something similar to that. The purpose is to create an educated critical scholar who also has knowledge of the language of the area. Now secondly, there has been a discussion as to whether title VI funds money, I assume what is being talked about is funding professors' salaries, and I don't believe this is correct either. In the program I am in title VI money just goes to the PhD's tuition and fellowships. As far as bias goes, the students choose the classes which they attend. It's not as if they are told what classes to go to or that they experience a lot of bias by the professors. If I don't like the professors' political point of view, then I can take something else and there is a wide choice of classes and perspectives to obtain.
Moderator: Stanley Kurtz's argument though, unfortunately somehow we fell off the line, I don't know if we disconnected him or whatever, I don't know what happened, but his argument is that its difficult to find that variety of opinions, even for the student that is looking for it.
Joe (Caller): I just don't think that is true. In fact in history, which may be different from political science, we don't study the past in order to necessarily draw immediate policy conclusion for the government. Were trying to look dispassionately at what has occurred in the past, and try to understand various forces, social factors, and political factors at work. And I think there are a variety of perspectives you can obtain, and if you don't like the political subtext ever you're reading, you can question that you can discuss that. You are always free to go to the library and seek out alternative points of view. Ultimately I'm against this idea of government oversight and an advisory board for these monies. I think that the schools apply to the department of education for the monies, and the schools should retain local control over how the funds are dispersed and how they design their educational programs. And I don't think a very high level of education should be subjected to whatever the political whims of the moment are.
Moderator: Joe thank you for your call. Back with us is Stanley Kurtz. I'm sorry we got disconnected from you so you probably only heard the final portion of Joe's comments. But he said that it was a mischaracterization to say there was any obligation on the part of students receiving Title VI funds to go into national service at all. That the idea was just creating an educated group of students that have additional language skills and knowledge of a wide range of parts of the world, and that it was just designed to do that, and that no money goes to support professors salaries, but that the money just goes to students themselves.
Kurtz: Well first of all, it's absolutely true, as I said a little earlier, that it's not funding professors' salaries and it's not funding the ordinary college classroom, so this is not going to be controlling the college classroom. Were talking about outreach programs, and we are talking about the degree to which students do go on and serve the federal government. I absolutely do agree with the caller that one important purpose of title VI monies is to increase the fund of general knowledge of these areas. But there is no doubt that congress does have an interest, a specific interest, in bringing people into government service. And you can see this in that after 9/11 congress passed the largest increase in title VI ever, 26% increase, it was clearly because they acutely saw the problem of this deficit of translators and other area studies experts in our defense and intelligence agencies. And there have been congressmen who endorsed this bill, basically saying exactly that. And what the bill is doing is making those intentions explicit. What the bill is doing is saying look, these monies should help encourage programs to meet national needs in a variety of areas, including defense and intelligence, including homeland security and national security as one among others. So there is just no doubt I think, of congresses intent on this.
Moderator: okay, let's take another call from Dave in Hollywood. Welcome to AirTalk.
Dave (Caller): Hi, yes, I just wanted to talk to Professor Khalidi about his assertion that there is some amount of balance in the academic world as far as differing views, especially in international affairs and Middle East studies. If that is his assertion, than for me, having an advisory board involve itself and look at the issues involved here, their conclusions would be that it was balanced and that there would be no problem. I don't understand his resistance to an advisory board that according to his assertions would find that it is balanced and that there would be no need for any type of intervention that would be counter to that.
Moderator: Professor Khalidi, I'm guessing that your concern is that you feel there would be pressure to unbalance it in the other direction is that right?
Khalidi: I think that it is clear that some members of congress stated that their intent in this was to right what they saw as a grievous set of wrongs. The kind of things that Mr. Kurtz pointed out in his many National Review articles on the subject and in his testimony of last June I think it was. And our concern is that since the prescription is false, and the description of the situation is false, the danger is that they are going to come up with a false prescription of what to do. I think that these programs should be increasing our knowledge of the rest of the world, and I think that to a very large extent they do do this, in particular in language and area expertise. And I think that that is good irrespective of whether people go into government service. I think we need people to teach on these areas and that we need a greater general knowledge on these areas, and I think that we should have an increase on the pool of people that can go into government service. But another thing that these programs do, and that Middle East and area studies generally do, is try to create an educated citizenry. Through outreach programs and by me spending time on the telephone with you. And other things that all of us try to do. And that's important to our citizens being able to have a check on the government and on the mistakes that it may be making. We want an informed citizenry (Recording ends here)
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