The use of taxpayer funds to support international studies programs at universities has recently come under fire due to a perception of anti-American bias. At a hearing titled "International Programs in Higher Education and Questions of Bias", held on June 19th by the House Subcommittee on Select Education (of the Committee of Education and Workforce), Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution testified about the problems that permeate Middle East and other area studies.
In his testimony, Kurtz noted that federal support for area studies allocated under what is known as “Title VI”, funding in the Department of Education exceeds $100 million. While this sum is small by federal standards, it is a large amount of money in the field of international studies and have great impact. After 9/11, the Bush administration increased funding for international studies by 26 percent in the assumption that more American students in area studies would be a good investment for the national security. In fact, it would be a good investment but for the fact that these programs are awash in polemical, one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy. Even more troubling, directors of some programs actively shun programs designed to assist national security. Indeed, the African, Latin-American, and Middle East Studies Associations actively boycotted the National Security Education Program that funds foreign language study in exchange for government service.
A streaming video of the June 19 hearing, as well as commentary by Stanley Kurtz, Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes provide further insight into this important issue. A heated debate was also aired on MSNBC.
The hearings sparked many letters to the subcommittee’s chair, Pete Hoekstra, R-MI. One outstanding letter to him was written by Talia Magnas, a recent University of Chicago graduate, offering a student’s experience with the bias of taxpayer-funded programs.
Dear Representative Hoekstra:
As a recent alumna of the University of Chicago, I am very grateful that you are investigating the issues of bias in the academy and the usefulness of Title VI funding. The anti-American and anti-Israel bias at the University of Chicago’s department of Near Eastern Language and Civilization and the Title VI-funded Center for Middle Eastern Studies is strong and pervasive.
I became especially aware of the bias on campus immediately after September 11th, when many professors spoke at a University-sponsored panel series on September 11th entitled “9/11: Causes and Consequences,” at which very few voices were friendly to U.S. interests, while many professors condemned the U.S. and blamed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially toward Israel, for the terrorist attacks. Many professors were also vocal in the student paper and around campus, blaming our sanctions against Iraq for the attacks, lambasting “American imperialism,” and responding bitterly when a few timid students stated their concern over the deaths of fellow Americans. I found these facts extremely troubling. Perhaps the worst thing is that faculty members have created an atmosphere in which debate is chilled; those who defend America are not as welcome to express their views as those who condemn it.
The field of Middle Eastern Studies at Chicago shows particular anti-American and anti-Israel bias. At most panel discussions sponsored by our Near Eastern Language and Civilization (NELC) department and by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, those critical of the United States and Israel form a steady chorus, while those who vocally support U.S. democracy are hardly ever invited to participate. The main problem is that vocally pro-American and pro-Israel professors are simply not hired in Middle Eastern Studies at Chicago. I was president and founder of a Recognized Student Organization while at Chicago, and one of our goals was to bring speakers to campus who could present the perspective of American foreign policy interests in the Middle East. When our group looked for professors at our University who were friendly to and knowledgeable about U.S. policy interests whom we could ask to speak, we only came up with a few names, none of whom were in Middle Eastern Studies. As a result we had to bring in speakers from elsewhere to supplement the lack of diversity on campus.
The bias in Middle Eastern Studies is also part of a trend of politicization in the greater academy: since the 1960s, it has become acceptable for faculty to “politicize” the classroom, which means that professors are persuading students to accept their personal political views and versions of history. Some students believe there are strong political preconditions to being hired in many departments. A recent American Enterprise Institute Study found that 90%+ of faculty in the arts and sciences at American colleges are affiliated with the left. (Economics is farthest to the right, with only 80% of professors on the left). This statistic definitely meshes with my experience at Chicago. It is not uncommon for professors to critique conservative and liberal arguments in light of far-left ideas, while leaving out the many lucid, important critiques of leftist ideas by those in the center and on the right. And professors commonly make intolerant and nasty cracks at those they disagree with, such as conservatives, liberals, George W. Bush, members of the current Administration, and Israel. I am bothered by the lack of intellectual diversity on campus, as it leads me to question whether conservatives are being discriminated against in hiring and graduate admissions decisions (there are almost no conservative graduate students in the arts and sciences). I have conservative friends who are still undergraduates who want to become professors, and I am worried for their sake that they will not have a fair chance. I think that all American parents should be concerned about possible discrimination, as everyone would want one’s child to have a fair chance of becoming a professor should she so desire. One would also want one’s child to receive fair recommendations for professional schools and jobs, and to receive fair grading and respectful treatment in class regardless of U.S. political affiliation.
In closing, I’d like to address one claim made by Terry Hartle at the recent Title VI hearing of the House Subcommittee on Select Education. Mr. Hartle claimed that Edward Said’s post-colonial theory is not a dominant paradigm in academic area studies today. Hartle claimed that Said’s influence was strongest 10 years ago. It may be the case that Said used to be even more popular than he is now, but only in the sense that Michael Jordan might have been slightly more popular after his first championship win with the Bulls than he was after his fourth. Like Jordan, Edward Said is a superstar. Many in our Near Eastern Languages department and in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies revere him. In a whole array of different departments Said is adored by many, and some professors publicly laud him as a great example of a modernist who is still a radical.
Many graduate students and undergraduates are doing work on Said and his post-colonial theory disciples. One of this year’s two graduate student winners of the prestigious “Neubauer family presidential fellowship” for study at Chicago wrote his B.A. thesis on a Said-influenced topic in the NELC here at Chicago. It was called, “Orientalism in William Whewell’s History and Philosophy of Science,” which according to a University bulletin “examines some of the biases inherent in Western historiography of science.” Of course I have nothing against students studying Said and Orientalism, but what is troubling is that hardly anyone seems to be studying anti-American or anti-Israel bias in the Arab world to offset the anti-American trends. It is the lack of balance that is troubling.
Post-colonial theory is very influenced by Marxist ideas, including the idea that violence is justified in some cases against the powerful. In fact, not only is post-colonial theory huge in the academy, but many people are still influenced by Marxism in general, and some would like to see capitalism and the United States violently overthrown. It is not at all uncommon to hear professors praising terrorist groups as legitimate resistance groups, and even those interested in human rights on campus are often much more critical of Israel and the United States than they are of terrorism. Many on campus agree with one professor who stated that no one is a worse human rights violator than the United States. I’m sorry to say that many, many of my fellow students at Chicago bought into this line of thought.
Thanks very much for your consideration of these issues. As a loyal Chicago alumna and a concerned citizen, I care deeply about the outcome of these hearings.
A.B. University of Chicago