Winfield Myers, director of the Middle East Forum's Campus Watch project, and Clifford Smith, the director of its Washington Project, spoke to participants in an April 24 webinar (video) about congressional efforts to reform the field of Middle East studies.
The locus of these efforts is Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (Title VI/HEA), which was created with the explicit intention of enhancing "[t]he security, stability, and economic vitality of the United States in a complex global era" by growing its pool of "experts in and citizens knowledgeable about world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs." Under this program, universities offering area studies and language studies received grants from the federal government.
Many of the nation's most prominent Middle East studies centers received such grants. In the intervening decades, many of these centers have become "highly politicized, reliably anti-American, anti-Western, [and] anti-Israel, and they remain such today," said Myers. He and Smith have worked to bring this to the attention of congressional legislators.
This issue "got a head of steam" last April, Smith explained, when Rep. George Holding (R-NC) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos drawing attention to a conference cosponsored by the Duke/UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMS) that featured a brazenly antisemitic Palestinian rapper. "Basically what he said in his letter was, 'Look, they have academic freedom. They have freedom of speech, they can do whatever they want. However, this program is created by a Title VI center and they are receiving federal dollars for this Title VI center. I don't think taxpayer dollars should go to this programming'."
A few months later, the Department of Education sent a public letter to the consortium rebuking it for spending Title VI funds on a range of activities at odds with the requirements of its grant. Academics across the country were outraged, Smith recalled. Title VI centers had become "so used to spending the money on whatever they want that someone even asking them to uphold their part of a bargain was something new."
As Campus Watch worked to expose other Title VI Middle East studies centers, legislators raised similar alarms about other universities. In December, Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA) penned a letter to DeVos complaining about misappropriation of Title VI funds at Georgetown's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. In February 2020, Rep. Paul Gosar's (R-AZ) sent a letter detailing abuses at the University of Arizona's (UA) Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES).
Rep. Gosar took things a step further by alleging that the abuses at CMES also violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VI/CRA), which under President Trump's December 11, 2019 Executive Order now prohibits "discrimination rooted in anti-Semitism." Penalties for violation of Title VI/CRA are far more draconian, including the termination of all federal funding to the university in question. "If you want to get a university's attention," said Myers, "discuss pulling all federal funding from them, not just from the Middle East studies program but from hospitals, sciences, Pell grants, everything."
"If you want to get a university's attention, discuss pulling all federal funding."
Asked why so many university professors are antisemitic, Myers noted that antisemitism is considered acceptable on the political extremes, and "the extreme left has been in control of academe now for many, many years." Thus, "Middle East studies professors ... make statements which were they made about any other ethnic group ... would be absolutely beyond the pale and [for which] they would be fired. ... but when they make it about Jews or Israel, people just shrug their shoulders."
Asked "Why can't professors who teach lies, not just their opinions, be removed or sanctioned?" Myers replied that removal of individual professors is legally "a very, very difficult and long process" because many of them have tenure and all have First Amendment rights. "Our goal at Campus Watch is to critique them, to expose them to a wide audience beyond the campus."
The goal is to see these schools "hiring better university professors."
"This is a long-term project ... what you really need to do is change the culture" at these institutions, added Smith. "I think getting universities used to the fact that, look, if you're going to accept federal money, you actually have to do with it what the money is for, is a start of a change of that culture." Additional pressure can be brought through concerned members of the public "being active in their alumni associations, being active with donors, telling donors what their monies are going to." The goal is to see these schools "hiring better university professors next time and hiring new ones that actually have a truly diverse set of perspectives and that truly do have some form of objective teaching that isn't just driven purely by their own political agenda."
"If you're displeased with your alma mater, don't donate – write the president," said Myers. "If it's a state school, write legislators and object."