By Steven Isaacson
On Wednesday, Brandeis Center President Kenneth L. Marcus and Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) President Sarah Stern educated congressional staff and others on the history, current status, and problems of Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunities Act. This year, the failed government program, which funds many controversial Middle East Studies outreach programs, is up for its tenth reauthorization.
Before dozens of congressional staffers, Marcus and Stern educated key policymakers on the problems with Middle East Studies and the opportunities to make these programs more effective.
Title VI of the Higher Education enacted in 1958, was specifically intended to prepare America to address the then-present Soviet threat, by giving federal money to universities to strengthen their language programs and area studies departments in order to train future national defense, intelligence, and military staff. The money was therefore used to assist the United States national defense system in achieving its goals.
As the military’s focus shifted from the Soviets to where it currently stands, many schools began developing Middle East studies programs to study geo-political, ethnic, and cultural activities. However, as the Brandeis Center reported last September in a joint statement, the program has gone astray.
“The evidence shows that many centers funded under Title VI still do not serve the basic objectives of the program, namely, to advance American national security and international relations interests.”
There are three main issues with Title VI right now.
First, the way it is executed, Jewish students or students of perceived Jewish heritage are learning in a hostile environment that is not conducive to respectful dialogue. AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization driven to fix the problem of anti-Semitism on college campuses, produced a report in 2014, where it found that at UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies, at events held or co-sponsored by the Center between Fall 2010 and Spring 2013 where Israel was involved, 93% of the time, Israel was made out to be the aggressor, almost always at fault. This means that Israel is given a double standard compared to other countries around the world.
And it’s not simply at UCLA.
A recent joint LDB and Trinity College report presented results from a national demographic survey of American Jewish college students. The widely distributed report revealed that more than 50% of 1,157 self-identified Jewish students at 55 campuses declared to have experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the last academic year. In addition, a 2014 report by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) found that, out of 6 billion people polled, 26% of people worldwide harbor anti-Semitic attitudes or beliefs.
Statistics such as the aforementioned symbolize all across the country what LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus refers to as the ”resurgence of anti-Semitism” due to immensely harsh “rhetoric emitted from Middle East Studies programs.”
It becomes very much a legal issue in this case, because according to the landmark Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination at federally-funded programs on the basis of race, color, or national origin, is prohibited. Jewish students are protected under this because they consider Judaism to be their ethnicity, more than it is their religion.
Second, these Middle East Studies programs, which were originally supposed to strengthen U.S. foreign policy, have grown to do the exact opposite. But, as EMET leader Sarah Stern, said at the briefing, “The original intent has been turned on its head.” This may be due to, says Stern, the fact they follow the late Edward Said’s theory of post-colonialism that follows the story of the perceived colonialism of the West, and Israel as a puppet state of capitalist America.
Since these programs are anti-America and anti-Israel from the start, there is an environment that is innately not friendly to Jewish students.
Third, there is no way to enforce the key provisions of the Higher Education Act because Congress did not establish any accountability measures. Under the current system, the Education Department has asked universities who wish to receive money under Title VI grants to, essentially, promise that they will uphold standards within the Act. When programs ask for Title VI money, the Department does not probe applicants evaluate applicants’ assertions that they will provide a “diversity of perspectives” in their outreach programs, as required under the statute. Instead, it merely checks to make sure that they have provided the proper certification. Worse, neither Congress nor the Department of Education has established definition for what constitutes the proper “diversity of perspectives” in Middle East Studies.
This is not the first time The Brandeis Center has been to Capitol Hill, or spoken to Education Department officials, to stress the importance of these regulations.
Last year, Kenneth L. Marcus spoke on an earlier Capitol Hill panel, educating Congressional staff and others about the need to reform Middle East Studies. He stated in an article,
“One idea would be to defund it…but de-funding is not the only option. If Title VI funding is to be salvaged, some measures can be taken. They include: [to] properly evaluate university promises to ensure diverse perspectives…[and to] establish a formal grievance procedure independent of the campuses.”
In addition to the joint statement and the Hill briefings, LDB has also produced an influential white paper on “The Morass of Middle East Studies: Title VI of the Higher Education Act and Federal Funded Area Studies.” This important policy paper explains the history of Title VI, its misuse, and options for reform. The white paper notes,
“Most notably, the 2008 reauthorization required Title VI grant applicants to demonstrate that their programs would be non-biased…they all require Title VI programs to provide “diverse perspectives” and a “wide range of views to generate debate on world regions and international affairs” in order to receive federal funding.”
What the reauthorization did not take into account, was any sort of oversight or regulation as it pertains to Middle East Studies outreach programs.
In the end, Stern comments, “Title VI requires a great deal of Congressional oversight,” and perhaps more attention than the government than it has thus far given to the issue.