American interests require experts on international subject matter. We need diplomats, analysts, and spies with expertise in particular languages and cultures. But Congress made a mistake when it entrusted U.S. universities with millions of dollars to produce these experts—people who are supposed to be trained to serve U.S. interests but who often end up working against them. Congress must exercise greater oversight over these federal dollars or, even better, discontinue them altogether.
The core mistake was failing to realize that area studies programs tend to attract people who prefer the foreign countries they study over the United States. Additionally, centers studying the Middle East are funded by Middle Eastern countries and their agents. The same goes for programs focused on other regions. And instead of promoting diverse perspectives, too many programs reflect the leftward biases of their universities—some even going so far as to promote antisemitism.
These programs are funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act and are known as the International and Foreign Language Education programs. Congress created these programs to support the “security, stability, and economic vitality of the United States in a complex global era.”
But they are not achieving this goal. Reports from the National Association of Scholars in 2022 and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law in 2014 describe the lack of effective oversight by the U.S. Department of Education, especially in Middle East Studies Centers.
The Brandeis Center report cites a study of Title VI-funded Israel-related public events presented between 2010 and 2013 at the University of California at Los Angeles. The study found “bias against Israel” in 93% of the events.
The 2022 report shows how “foreign governments took advantage of … academics’ ideological commitment over the decades to propagandize Americans.” The report also finds that even without foreign funding, professors’ biases do the job. “Many of the faculty at [Middle East Studies Centers] support or are affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which advocates for an aggressive economic embargo against Israel.”
The problems are not limited to bias against Israel and are not limited to Middle East Studies Centers, but these instances are the best documented so far.
The first development to address the problem came in a March 8 letter to the Department of Education from 15 members of the U.S. Senate led by Sen. James Risch of Idaho. The letter described the senators’ “grave concern” that the department “has been allowing taxpayer-funded antisemitism to take place on college campuses throughout the United States,” particularly in Middle East Studies Centers whose “obsessive negative focus on Israel and the Jewish people” go far beyond legitimate criticism.
The letter cites statistics from the Anti-Defamation League showing that “incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assault are rising on college campuses,” noting that 15% of antisemitic campus incidents in 2021 “involved references to Israel or Zionism.” Moreover, such harassment and attacks were significantly more likely on campuses with “faculty who actively support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.”
The senators requested that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona respond to a series of questions about the department’s oversight of federally funded programming at colleges and universities. In particular, the senators asked about the department’s efforts—or lack thereof—to ensure the viewpoint diversity required by Title VI of the Higher Education Act.
There’s a strong case to be made that the Title VI programs have strayed so far from their intended purpose that they should be discontinued altogether. If that is not politically feasible, then the Title VI regulations at least should be significantly reformed so that funded projects actually serve American interests as intended.
A new Heritage Foundation report published earlier this month details how Congress could accomplish this goal. (Adam Kissel, one of the authors of this article, wrote the report.)
The report’s proposed regulations shift funding away from area studies centers in several ways. First, they move substantial funding into the Title VI international business programs. To mitigate the potential for teaching that special business interests should get special privileges, the new regulations include a competitive preference for funding projects that teach the role of free markets or collaborate with colleges’ philosophy, politics, and economics programs (known as PPE programs).
Second, the proposed regulations prioritize funding of external university partners, including organizations that help rescue oppressed scholars from dangerous countries and give them academic homes in the United States.
Third, the proposal recommends using Title VI’s geographical diversity requirement to prioritize funding different centers over the ones that keep getting funded year after year.
The proposed regulations also stop prioritizing identity groups and minority-serving institutions, which are ideological priorities that cannot be defended from the stated purposes in Title VI.
Indeed, under the proposed regulations, grantee institutions as well as the funded centers and fellows all must certify that they actually intend to serve the statutory mission of the programs—to serve U.S. interests. If a person or a university files a false assurance to the Education Department, significant penalties are available.
Along those lines, the proposed regulations would prohibit the use of federal funding for projects that seek to undermine U.S. interests when those projects argue that:
- The interests of another country should take precedence over the interests of the United States.
- The United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.
- American rule of law is primarily a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other kinds of identity groups.
- All Americans are not created equal or are not endowed with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- A government should deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.
Unfortunately, such funding prohibitions are necessary because all too many U.S. colleges and universities have faculty members who teach such divisive things. Academics should, of course, be free to express whatever viewpoints they want—but U.S. taxpayers should not have to fund them through these specialized programs.
As described above, the proposed regulations would do much more than address the problem of antisemitism in area studies centers that are funded with U.S. tax dollars and dollars from foreign countries. In fact, the proposal involves all of the International and Foreign Language Education programs, as well as the Fulbright programs that the International and Foreign Language Education office also oversees.
The Education Freedom Institute has published the full set of proposed line-by-line edits to the existing regulations in Title VI. These changes are ready to go if a future secretary of education is ready to hold these programs accountable.
But rather than rely on government programs, the better way to produce area studies experts is to end these programs and let market forces raise salaries until we have all the experts we need. Even if some subsidy turns out to be necessary, Congress should invest in more trustworthy institutions than U.S. universities, at least until our universities work through their biases.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal