Posted by Nicole Khamis on August 06, 2015 in Blog

classroom_titleVI.jpgIn the battle to control the narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on campuses, Title VI funding for Middle East Studies is caught in the crossfire. As the 10th reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) will be completed by the end of this year, threats to completely defund Middle East Programs created by Title VI are mounting, and should be a concern for all who believe in the integrity of academia.

The Higher Education Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, contains 11 titles that each reinforces its main goal of providing aid and allocating funding for various higher education programs and institutional grants. Title VI of the HEA authorized 10 international-education programs, including area-studies centers, which are designed to develop an understanding of “specific geographic regions of critical scholarly and political importance.” Federal support for these programs has produced scholars who teach, research, and write about the Middle East. Viewed as a significant national security asset, lawmakers on the hill are ironically poised and ready to defund Title VI due to its ‘biased’ politics surrounding Israel.

Late last year, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking Democratic member of the House Appropriations Committee, wrote to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warning of “concerns that a number of imbalanced programs of Middle East Studies are disproportionally focused on and are biased against Israel” which are funded by Title VI. Some individual programs were targeted, UCLA’s Middle East Center was slammed with attacks filled with inaccurate accusations of “anti-Semitism” from a self-appointed watchdog group.

Instead of disagreeing in how students learn about Palestine and Israel, such as offering multiple perspectives and allowing for open interpretation which allow students to be critical, a cornerstone of any academic pursuit, pro-Israel activists are trying to stop any conversation that is the least bit critical of Israeli policies. Title VI, and the programs that it funds, are now being used as a political tool to cut off funding to academic programs that are not aligned with pro-Israel rhetoric. Their aim is not at the curricula being taught, but the funding that makes these programs possible. These efforts are frightening in how they could lead to censorship in equating scholarship and academic discussion with anti-Semitism.

During the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, congress attempted to stymie bias by guaranteeing that federal funding would only be given to programs that reflected “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.” What critics do not understand is that views that differ from their own are included in the updated language of the law. Campuses should continue to hold events and foster programs that include a wide range of perspectives that allow healthy debate and foster critical thought, and congress should continue to fund Title VI programs that have led to an entire generation of scholars who are critical to our national security.  While calls to overhaul Title VI haven’t made significant inroads, one must ask themselves why its critics are so scared of teaching the truth.

Nicole Khamis is an intern with the Arab American Institute