The Corner

Education

Another Donor Intent Case — with a Strange Twist

Recently, I wrote about the legal battle between Hillsdale College and the University of Missouri over the bequest of a Mizzou alum/donor. Missouri wanted his money, but didn’t like his conditions, so it took the money but brazenly proceeded to redefine the donor’s conditions so broadly that it could claim to be in compliance.

A similar situation has arisen with regard to a joint Duke/UNC program where the money is coming not from a private party, but from the federal government. In today’s Martin Center article, Jay Schalin writes about the dispute.

The federal money has been given to a Duke/UNC consortium under Title VI of the Higher Ed Act. Schalin explains: “Title VI of the Higher Education Act defines a highly specific set of grants intended ‘to protect the security, stability, and economic vitality of the United States by teaching American students the foreign languages and cultural competencies required to develop a pool of experts to meet our national needs.’ Grants are given to university Middle East studies centers ‘for purposes of establishing, strengthening, and operating comprehensive foreign language and area or international studies centers and programs.’”

Here’s the problem — the Duke/UNC consortium has little to do with the purposes of Title VI and far more to do with current politics and leftist notions. Israel is bad and Islam just needs to be better understood.

The Department of Education has sent a letter to the consortium, complaining that what it has been doing is not what Title VI contemplates. In reply, the consortium said that it was in compliance — if you take an extremely broad view of Title VI.

Leftists have reacted just as you’d expect, declaring that the Education Department is interfering because Trump is hostile to academic freedom. Schalin, however, maintains that the administration is acting responsibly to inject some badly needed oversight into federal higher ed grants.

He concludes, “Whether the ED letter heralds a new era in academia, in which donors, trustees, and government agencies start to provide actual oversight over academia, is very much an open question. There is considerable likelihood that this will all blow over and academics will once again feel free to take the money and ignore the strings attached by hiding behind a self-serving definition of academic freedom. And yet, nobody expected the ED to exercise this much authority; perhaps it is coming.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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