US: Area-Studies Programs Come Under Fire at House Hearing

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 28 13:52:19 UTC 2007

Area-Studies Programs Come Under Fire at House Hearing


A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Thursday heard charges
that federally financed international-studies programs at American
colleges and universities are biased against U.S. foreign policy and
should be more tightly regulated. The foreign-language and area-studies
programs, which are supported under Title VI of the Higher Education Act,
"tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign
policy," Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover
Institution, told the Subcommittee on Select Education. He said that the
centers were not only ideologically biased but also sought to undermine
American foreign policy by actively discouraging students from working for
the federal government.

Representatives of higher-education groups, however, strongly defended the
programs. "Title VI does not perpetuate, encourage, or support monolithic
viewpoints or ideologies," said Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president
at the American Council on Education. He said that more than 1,000
students who graduated in 2001 from international-studies centers
supported under Title VI were civilian employees of the federal government
and that an additional 400 worked for the U.S. military.

"Almost all of the criticism is being leveled against a small and specific
part of the Title VI programs," Middle East studies centers, Mr. Hartle
said. He also noted that of the 118 area-studies centers supported by
Title VI, just 15 focused on the Middle East, and that they consumed about
only $4-million of the $86.2-million Title VI budget. "This criticism is
exaggerated and misguided," he said. "It is a fairly small part of Title
VI that has generated controversy." Mr. Kurtz, however, argued that
Congress needs to create a supervisory board to manage the Title VI
programs and root out bias. Gilbert W. Merkx, vice provost for
international affairs at Duke University, and Mr. Hartle both opposed such
a board.

"I do not think a board would be effective since we had such a board in
the 1970s, and it didn't work very well," Mr. Merkx said. He said he
thought that the current peer-review process was working well, but he also
recommended creating an interagency board made up not of politicians but
of representatives from different federal agencies, such as the
Departments of Defense, Education, and Homeland Security, to verify that
the centers were following through with their stated purposes. Mr. Hartle
said that if the federal government were to take a role in determining
whether or not the programs at area-studies centers were bias-free, it
would favor the views of whichever party was in power. Mr. Kurtz also
recommended in his testimony that Congress cut the budget for Title VI
programs. He proposed taking the $20-million that was added to Title VI
programs following September 11, 2001, and giving it to the Defense
Language Institute to support "scholarships for students interested in
good quality, full-time jobs at our defense and intelligence agencies."

Mr. Hartle responded that the Title VI centers were "a priceless national
resource" that is "working well and does not need to be substantially
modified" when the Higher Education Act is reauthorized this year.

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