Politics & Policy

Who Will Defend The Defenders?

The academy takes aim at the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program

America’s intelligence agencies need recruits who understand the languages and cultures of the Middle East. The lives of our soldiers depend on it. Trouble is, the leftist professors who control America’s universities want to stop their students from joining the CIA. The ROTC has long been banned from our most prestigious campuses. For decades, area-studies professors have undermined scholarship programs designed to bring knowledgeable recruits into our defense and intelligence agencies. And now, 40 years of anti-military scheming has created what may become the sharpest campus conflict of all–a fight over the newly established Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program.

These new scholarships are named after Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.). Graduate students receive up to $25,000 a year for their studies, in exchange for a promise to serve in an intelligence agency for at least 18 months after graduation. The identities of Roberts Scholars are not made public, and this has provided leftist professors with a pretext to oppose the program. The claim is that Roberts trainees will spy on their professors. It’s also alleged that the Roberts program may give some countries an excuse to ban American field-researchers.

Opponents of the Roberts program say it’s not the spying they object to, just the secrecy. If someone wants to work for the CIA and do fieldwork in another country, that’s just fine, says anthropologist David H. Price, the Roberts program’s most outspoken critic. So long as CIA recruits openly identify themselves to every Pakistani villager they talk to, Price is happy.

Assisted suicide for aspiring CIA analysts may be morally acceptable to Professor Price, but I suspect Roberts Fellows may feel differently. It’s tough to take the secrecy excuse seriously when our leftist professorate has banned and boycotted utterly transparent military and intelligence programs for decades. ROTC participation is public. So why aren’t the Roberts Programs’ critics agitating to bring the ROTC back to campus?


We wouldn’t need the Roberts Fellowships to begin with if it weren’t for decades of misbehavior by America’s professors. Every time Congress creates a scholarship program designed to bring language and area experts into our national-security apparatus, the academy subverts it. And every time a scholarship program is undermined, Congress responds by creating an even more targeted program. Now Congress has been forced to create the most targeted program of all–an advanced scholarship expressly designed to train mature intelligence analysts. Naturally, the program requires secrecy. But of course, if the academy had allowed the earlier, broader, and fully transparent programs to work the way they were supposed to, we wouldn’t be looking at the Roberts program today.

Back in the 1950s, a Cold War Congress passed the National Defense Education Act for the express purpose of funneling foreign-language experts into our defense and intelligence apparatus. Eventually, the National Defense Education Act was incorporated into the Higher Education Act of 1965 as Title VI. Slowly but surely, the academy turned Title VI into a liberal arts subsidy, de-emphasizing the linguistic expertise and government recruitment that were the original focus of the program. With the advent of Edward Said’s “post-colonial studies” in the 1980s, area-studies programs pocketed millions of federal dollars, even as professors claimed it was immoral to put their knowledge at the service of the American government.

Just after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, then Senate Intelligence Committee chairman David Boren (D., Okla.) saw that Title VI wasn’t working. Despite millions of dollars in government subsidies to Middle East and other area-studies programs, our defense and intelligence agencies had few personnel who understood the languages and cultures of the Middle East. That’s why Boren established the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a scholarship that required beneficiaries to serve in a national security related agency after graduation.

The leftist professorate immediately set out to gut the NSEP. First, they expanded the definition of “national security-related agency,” until students could serve almost anywhere in government after graduation. Even that didn’t stop professors from trying to destroy the NSEP altogether, as I showed in “Boycott Exposure.” Is it any wonder that Sen. Roberts is still trying to solve the problem that confronted Chairman Boren 15 years ago?

The academy is complaining about the Roberts program because it’s specifically targeted to produce mature and knowledgeable intelligence analysts, and because the names of those analysts remain secret. Well, what do you expect? For decades the academy deliberately diluted and subverted broader and more transparent programs. Under pressure from the war on terror, Congress has been left with no choice but to create a highly targeted program designed to accomplish precisely what our leftist professors have spent decades trying to prevent.

PROTECTING ROBERTS FELLOWS, ABROAD AND AT HOME Why does the Roberts program have to be secret? Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of protecting lives abroad. Fellows also need to be protected at home. Clearly, were participants publicly named, they would be liable to harassment by leftist professors and students alike. While some professors pretend that all they object to is the program’s secrecy, we know that other professors openly admit to refusing letters of recommendation to students in the NSEP. Given the history of vicious scholarly boycotts against the NSEP (see my “Boycott Exposure,”) it’s obvious that Roberts scholars will be subject to similar harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.

But isn’t higher education built on the principle of transparency? No, it is not. The Roberts Program’s opponents claim that “secrecy has no place in academe.” Actually, the academy is virtually built on institutionalized secrecy. Everything from faculty hiring, to promotion, to tenure, to juried journal submissions, to decisions to publish university press books, to the authorship of student evaluations of professors, is secret. And in every case, the secrecy is designed to protect those vulnerable to retaliation. I fear that under the guise of fair and neutral scholarship, academic secrecy is too often used to protect the Left’s political monopoly on campus. But no one can claim that institutionalized secrecy designed to protect those susceptible to retaliation is unheard of in academe. In the case of intelligence fellowships, secrecy is justified by a long and ongoing record of professorial hostility and retaliation–not to mention the fact that, overseas, the lives of Roberts Fellows are literally at stake.

Roberts Program opponents point to the abuses of the McCarthy era and claim that recruits will be asked to spy on their professors. According to Sen. Roberts himself, that’s absurd. Roberts points to the vast array of safeguards against domestic spying abuses put in place in the 1970s. It’s perfectly fair to temper our intelligence needs with attention to the dangers of abuse. But what’s the point of instituting all those safeguards if we give up on training knowledgeable intelligence analysts altogether? Despite their denials, that sort of surrender is exactly what Roberts Program opponents want.

The great exception here is the courageous Felix Moos, the anthropologist who first floated the idea for something like a Pat Roberts program. Moos knows perfectly well that Title VI subsidies aren’t bringing recruits into our defense or intelligence agencies. “I’m a former director of a Title VI center,” he says, “and I think it would take a decade to reform that system or to create a new title from scratch.” All honor to Felix Moos, and to Sen. Roberts, for creating this new program. But the need for the Roberts program only highlights the necessity of finally doing something about Title VI. The sooner we establish an Advisory Board to reform Title VI, the better.

Ironically, the same academics who oppose an Advisory Board for Title VI are demanding an Advisory Board for the Roberts program. Their strategy is to destroy the Roberts Program by putting scholars on the board who would “out” student participants. Of course, both Title VI and the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program ought to have boards. But the point of these boards is to represent the requirements of the government agencies served by the programs. The academy wants to pack these boards with scholars so that, in effect, the professors can oversee themselves. Instead, the boards of both the Roberts Program and Title VI should be composed of representatives of government agencies and congressional appointees. A Roberts Program Board might also benefit from scholars with a proven track record of cooperation with the intelligence community.


The controversy over the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program is just the latest episode in the American academy’s shameful betrayal of its duty to our country. It wasn’t enough for leftist scholars to dissociate themselves from Title VI or the NSEP. They had to actively dilute and undermine these programs for others, until these scholarships could no longer fulfill the purpose for which they were intended.

The deeper issue here is the relationship between the academy and society. The many opponents of the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program argue that the academy should be independent of the state. But the Roberts program’s isolated and courageous defender, Felix Moos, responds that scholars have a duty to help their country. Moos faced down his critics during a fascinating colloquium sponsored by The Chronicle of Higher Education, repeatedly making the point that “we are at war.” (The Chronicle also published “Cloak and Classroom,” an excellent article describing the larger battle over the Pat Roberts program.)

To Moos’s critics, saying we’re at war is a non sequitur–a point with no bearing on the debate over the Roberts fellowships. Funny, but when the higher-education lobby comes to Capitol Hill looking for more Title VI money, it’s happy to tell Congress that professors care about national security. But unmasking higher education’s hypocrisy is less important than exposing the illusion that the academy can be entirely divorced from society. It isn’t just a question of the academy’s unquenchable thirst for federal money. Scholars are quick to bridle at the thought that America’s intelligence needs might complicate their lives. Yet these professors can’t see that their decades-long war against defense and intelligence scholarships has endangered the lives of every American. Ultimately, the academy’s freedom and prosperity are guaranteed by our soldiers.

With any luck, the bitter battle over the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program will expose the delusions of the academics for what they are. The entire system of federal scholarships for area-studies students has to be reformed. The shame of excluding the ROTC and military recruiters from our campuses has to end. Most of all, we’ve got to find a way to break the intellectual monopoly of the leftist professorate and revive the marketplace of ideas on our college campuses.


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