Long-time NRO readers will know that ever since 9/11, I‘ve been advocating reform of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, the system of federal subsidies to programs of Middle East Studies. In 2003, I testified before a House subcommittee on the issue. After a five-year battle, bipartisan agreement was reached and a reformed law was finally passed in August of 2008. At the time I was too swept up in Ayers, Acorn, Wright, etc. to explain the new law here on NRO. Today, in “UCLA Tests Congress,” I not only explain how Congress reformed Title VI, I describe what may be the first challenge to the law, playing out now at UCLA.
The new law is careful to exempt the classroom from federal interference. The challenge is to restore oversight to the “public outreach” programs Congress requires beneficiaries of Title VI subsidies to conduct. As I noted in “Saudi in the Classroom,” the lack of oversight in these federally mandated public outreach programs has permitted some of them to be “captured” by Saudi donors. (By the way, controversial new NIC Chairman, Chas Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council has been a key player in this problem.)
No school has to take these federal subsidies, and only a small portion of area studies programs actually receive them. Applying for federal money and running the required public outreach programs is entirely voluntary. Until now, however, universities, often abetted by foreign donors, have used public money to make an end-run around local K-12 curriculum safeguards, and to subsidize what was effectively public political agitation by professors. The new law is an attempt to stop these and other abuses. Joining the Title VI program is a kind of voluntary contract between a university and the government, and if a given institution doesn’t like the new law, it is perfectly free to drop out of the program and run its area studies program independently. That’s what most area studies programs do anyway.