US: Among the Intellectualoids: He Said, She Said

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jan 10 14:52:42 UTC 2009

Among the Intellectualoids: He Said, She Said
By Jillian Bandes on 1.9.09 @ 6:06AM

Title VI, a recent addition to the original Higher Education Act of
1965, is part of a post-9/11 educational trend aimed at exposing
Americans to the languages and cultures of the Middle East. The
program gives a little over $100 million a year to the Department of
Education (DE) for language and foreign policy study, but critics fear
it may sometimes run counter to our goals in the war on terror.

Conservative journalists, most notably National Review's Stanley Kurtz
and Martin Kramer, have accused the federal government of sending
Title VI funds to biased professors and partisan programs -- ones that
exclusively taught Middle East history with Arabs portrayed as Little
Red Riding Hood and America as the Big Bad Wolf. This school of
thought, spurred by Edward Said's Orientalism, largely ignores the
negative aspects of the politics and cultures of the Middle East and
discounts much of the scholarship critical of the region produced in
the West.

Predictably, left-wing professors have dismissed these accusations as
a witch hunt by right-wing crazies. Nezar AlSayyad, chair of the
Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, said the original
reforms were "intervention in what faculty members do and it is an
attempt to silence those who criticize the government."

Juan Cole, a regular contributor to Salon and professor of the modern
Middle East at the University of Michigan, said on his blog that their
efforts were intended to "warp academic study and ensure that
independent researchers are not allowed to be heard," and that the DE
"already does oversight of the area studies centers, and gives or
withholds money according to whether they meet government goals."

After the initial call for reform, a congressional hearing was held,
and a bill was passed in August of last year to require Title VI award
recipients to "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of
views." Kurtz was encouraged but said "A lot will depend on how it is
enacted and enforced." Miriam A. Kazanjian, of the Coalition for
International Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "I
don't know anyone who is against diverse perspectives; it's like
motherhood and apple pie."

How diverse the perspectives will really be is up to government
bureaucrats. The public can have input on these bureaucrats'
interpretation of the law via a "comments" section on the Federal
Register. But whether this is in fact a meaningful reform -- and, more
importantly, how the money gets in the hands of the universities --
remains unclear.

Kurtz argued in National Review that the money has been going into
partisan hands because it was handled by DE committees whose
membership was monopolized by left-wing academics: "Instead of
restricting the membership of these committees to scholars, policy
makers and policy experts from think tanks need to be empowered to sit
on such panels." Cole countered that education officials already
oversaw the process and that "government objectives" were being met.

Yet following the money is extremely difficult. The $100 million
transferred from the U.S. Treasury to the DE for Title VI programs
funds ten area and language study programs in the U.S. and abroad,
typically administered by individual universities as improvements or
additions to existing foreign studies programs. The department
couldn't say conclusively how much money goes to Middle Eastern and
Asian studies, but their website features a chart that shows what
money went to which university for the largest of the 10 programs.

The chart does a good job of detailing individual grants, but does not
say how much money is dedicated to a specific region. Some information
can be gleaned by looking at the individual grants, or at least, what
a group of individuals receive. Between the main program and the 9
others, approximately $7 million went this past year to a variety of
purposes at 23 African and Middle East studies centers across the U.S.

Another program gave $245,724 to the University of Michigan to further
develop advanced Arabic language studies. The university curricula
paid for by these grants was not publicized on the DE website, is not
available through the departments' press office, and is not available
on the individual universities programs' websites. A case-by-case
examination of individual universities curricula would need to be
undertaken in order to judge the partisanship of the programs.

But Title VI recipients are awarded their payments only after being
approved by a review board, so the DE should be aware of the curricula
it is funding before it ever gives the money out. According to the
department's press office, potential grantees apply for funding
through an online ED application, consisting of a 40-page grant essay,
among other requirements. These applications are evaluated by readers,
who are selected by the ED's Office of Postsecondary Education Field
Reader System (OPEFRS).

So how does one qualify as a reader? DE press officers could not tell
me exactly, though a government website asks potential readers for a
great deal of information and says they must hold bachelor's degrees.
I was also assured that the readers who oversaw the administration of
the last round of Middle East programs did include one public
official, one private industry representative, and four academics
representing "of course a full array of academic institutions."

Education officials say reader applications were overseen by the
Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education.
Maybe he could tell me whether that "full array" of academic
viewpoints included any from a non-Said perspective.

Unfortunately, the DE has gone through at least four separate Deputy
Assistant Secretaries for the Office of Postsecondary Education in the
past two years. Press release records indicate that Sally Stroup was
confirmed for the position on April 14, 2006. After her resignation,
James Manning became the Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary
Education on from May 4, 2006 until August 6, 2007, when Diane Auer
Jones was the confirmed Assistant Secretary. But then Jones resigned
on August 1. 2008, at which point Cheryl Oldham became the latest
Acting Assistant Secretary. She was on maternity leave and not
available for comment.

When it comes to Title VI, there are a lot more questions than answers.

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