Taking Sides on Title VI
Middle East Studies reform goes partisan.


Stanley Kurtz

In “Saudi in the Classroom,” I explained how the Saudis are using federal subsidies to university programs of Middle East Studies (under Title VI of the Higher Education Act) as a kind of Trojan horse to gain influence over American K-12 education. Unfortunately, House Democrats seem willing to let the Saudis get away with it. Although the Senate has already passed a very reasonable bipartisan compromise on Title VI (crafted by Senators Kennedy and Enzi), the House appears to have buckled to pressure from the higher education lobby, and gutted nearly every previously proposed reform of this troubled federal program. The radical professors who control MESA (the Middle East Studies Association) have been pressing to gut Title VI reform, and the House Democrats have clearly listened. When you compare the House Democrats’ stance on Title VI with the conduct of both parties in previous years, you get a surprisingly clear illustration of the shift toward radicalism and partisanship by the post-2006 Dems.

There’s still a chance to save Title VI reform, when the bill re-authorizing the Higher Education Act (which has cleared committee) hits the House floor, and again when it goes to conference. But right now things are looking perilous. We’ll see below how the fate of Title VI is a leading indicator of House Democrats’ new posture: more interested in playing to their radical base than in getting something productive done.

Although the House Democrats have added a couple toothless reforms to Title VI to disguise their capitulation to the radical professors, you can tell these changes are window-dressing by looking at what the Dems have left out. Not only does the House bill omit the Senate’s stronger and more contested reform proposals, it also leaves out a series of reforms that no one (to my knowledge) has ever publicly opposed. Amazingly, some of the omitted reforms have even been recommended by a prestigious non-partisan study that the Democrats themselves originally called for. In other words, the House Democrats are now so beholden to radical professors and the higher education lobby that they are ignoring their own blue ribbon commission. I’ll get to Saudi manipulation of Title VI in a bit, but first let’s look at the heretofore non-controversial reforms the House Democrats have just gutted.

Opposing Apple Pie
Most people know that intercepted transmissions from the 9/11 hijackers went unrecognized for want of government translators. Six years later, the shortage of accomplished speakers of Middle Eastern languages remains acute. The core purpose of Title VI (originally called the National Defense Education Act) is to get speakers of strategic languages into government service. Clearly the program isn’t working, and sad to say, some of this is intentional. Many radical professors actually boycott national security related scholarship programs. Thus, some of the very same academics who benefit from Title VI subsidies are actively trying to undermine the core purpose of the program.

There are other reasons why Title VI subsidies have consistently failed to bring speakers of strategic languages into government service. For one thing, the government doesn’t even have a coordinated way of obtaining basic information about which languages are most needed in which agency, and which subsidized university programs have the best record of sending students into government service. One of the key findings of the report on Title VI by the National Research Council (a study called for by the Democrats themselves), is that we lack data on the actual “impacts” and “outcomes” of Title VI subsidies.