The Corner

Title Vi Debate

Tim, you’re right to wonder about my response to today’s front page story in The Washington Poston the battle over Middle East Studies and HR 3077. My response is divided. I don’t think the article does a good enough job of covering the case for reform. The story plays up groundless charges of “McCarthyism,” and leaves out key reasons behind HR 3077 (like the academic boycott of national security scholarships). On the other hand, given its very real limitations, the story does make an effort to give a hearing to both sides of the issue. Even more striking than the Washington Post piece is “Culture War, Round 3077,” Todd Gitlin’s article on HR 3077 in the January issue of The American Prospect. Ostensibly, this piece is opposed to Title VI reform. In reality, it gives a boost to HR 3077. After checking out the wild claims of professors about HR 3077, Gitlin went to liberal Democratic congressmen like Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii (a fervent Dean backer). These liberal congressmen actually had praise for the bill. Nadler said there was a problem with Middle East Studies if scholars were not studying terrorism, and added that Congress had every right to set up a mechanism to monitor Title VI. Abercrombie distanced himself from the bill’s conservative backers, but said that the legislation itself was actually pretty good. The idea of having an advisory board to supervise a government scholarship program, said Abercrombie, is “like motherhood and apple pie.” More remarkable still, Gitlin quotes retiring MESA president, Lisa Anderson, defending the refusal of Middle East studies professors to write about terrorism. Anderson justifies this by saying that the limited body of scholarship on terrorism to date has been very bad. I’ve never understood this line of defense. Obviously, if the majority of scholars have avoided a topic, the scholarship on that topic will be bad. Isn’t that an argument for scholars to do more work on terrorism? All this is from an article in a liberal magazine that ostensibly opposes HR 3077. If this is the best opponents of HR 3077 can do, they are in big trouble.

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