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Bipartisan hope for Middle East studies reform.


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Stanley Kurtz

One of the best things about the new “language accountability czar” is that he is charged with coordinating programs run out of the Department of Education with the needs of our defense and intelligence agencies. The NRC also calls on the Department of Education to produce a biennial public report on national needs, drawn up in consultation with the departments of State and Defense and with our intelligence agencies. So the NRC has clearly stressed the need to integrate the functioning of Title VI with the needs of our defense and intelligence agencies, a theme often resisted by the politicized professors who have in the past sponsored boycotts of defense- and intelligence-related scholarships. This strong theme in the NRC report should make it easier to create new legislative language designed to preserve scholar and student freedom, while also insuring that federally funded programs give students every opportunity to gain information about, and to choose to participate in, defense- and intelligence-related scholarships.

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There are plenty of other mechanisms of accountability built into the NRC report. For example, the NRC calls for independent evaluations of all programs, every four or five years, with information regularly made available to the public. The full range of NRC recommendations add up to an accountability mechanism as good, or better, than anything Kramer or I have ever asked for. So if Congress actually goes ahead and incorporates the full panoply of the NRC’s accountability recommendations into law, it would (if also combined with a few key measures on bias and boycotts) suffice to allay our concerns, without the addition of an advisory board.

Bias and Boycotts
Let’s return to the problems of bias and boycotts. As I noted above, Congress did not charge the NRC with investigating these issues, wisely reserving the questions for treatment at the legislative level. The bias and boycott issue should be far easier to solve than it might seem. In the earlier version of Title VI reform, the House incorporated language highlighting the value that Congress places on treating topics from a wide variety of intellectual perspectives. That is a reasonable way of making a statement about bias, without encroaching on academic freedom. This sort of broad endorsement of the value of intellectual diversity is not a commandment. It is, on the other hand, a necessary expression of the fundamental value of the marketplace of ideas, the preservation of which is the very purpose of freedom of speech. And of course, as noted, I am perfectly comfortable with existing language that prevents a board (or now, perhaps instead, the language czar) from directly mandating or controlling the content of college-course curricula.

Yet something more is needed to deal with the problem of bias. Since Title VI outreach programs are not a part of the college curriculum, but are instead creatures of Congress, publicly transparent grievance procedures need to be established to handle complaints about outreach program operation. Fortunately, the Senate is now considering just such a grievance mechanism. Plans for that need to go forward.

Finally, there is the problem of the boycotts of scholarships designed to bring language-competent recruits into our defense and intelligence agencies. Obviously, no scholar or student should be forced to join a defense- or intelligence-related scholarship program. At the same time, it is vital that centers which receive Title VI subsidies should at least make fully available to students information on such scholarships, and do nothing to directly block voluntary participation by students or faculty in such programs. Surely Congress can find language that respects freedom of choice, while also insuring that Title VI centers sustain a basic level of cooperation with all government language-scholarship programs, including programs connected to our defense and intelligence agencies. After all, the NRC report itself highlights exactly that sort of coordination and cooperation as a core purpose of Title VI.

Agreement on Reform?
So the ingredients of a comprehensive and bipartisan solution to the four-year legislative battle over Title VI are now in place. A report by Inside Higher Ed indicates that Terry Hartle, who has been the point man for the higher education lobby on this issue, has already endorsed the NRC report’s accountability recommendations. (See “New Approach to International Education.”)

So if Congress 1) legislatively adopts the full panoply of the NRC’s recommended accountability provisions (including the creation of a presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed Education Department language czar); 2) requires participating Title VI institutions to create publicly transparent grievance procedures; 3) retains general language calling for intellectual diversity (while also protecting academic freedom); 4) creates language that respects individual choice, yet also insures that subsidized programs cooperate with other federal scholarship programs — then we’ve got the necessary ingredients for a bipartisan solution to the long-running controversy over Title VI.



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