In a letter sent earlier this week to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) became the fourth Congressman in just over a year to ask the Department of Education (DoE) to investigate a university for misusing federal funds awarded to Middle East studies centers under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.
Arguing that administrators at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) "cannot distinguish between speech protected under the First Amendment and misallocating government funding," Lamborn charges UCB's Title VI-supported Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) with spending taxpayer dollars "for purposes contrary to those required by Congress when it created Title VI."
These allegations and the accompanying call for DoE to investigate are similar to those made earlier by Reps. George Holding (R-NC), Denver Riggleman (R-VA), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) against Duke/UNC, Georgetown, and the University of Arizona, respectively. A subsequent Departmental investigation into the Duke/UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies found that many of its activities have "little or no relevance to Title VI" and that they "lack balance."
Berkeley administrators "cannot distinguish" between free speech and misallocating government funding, wrote Lamborn.
Title VI was launched to ensure "that universities are properly resourced to educate students in matters related to foreign affairs, including relevant linguistic and cultural training," Lamborn notes. Its primary purpose was to strengthen America's national security by providing a steady stream of rigorous, unbiased research for use by politicians and policymakers. Yet "regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ... Berkeley students are overwhelmingly fed a false and distorted narrative not only at odds with an objective approach to understanding the conflict, but substantially at odds at American national security interests."
Among myriad examples of politicized, biased teaching and research cited by Lamborn, a charter member of the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, one stands out for its sheer brazenness in ignoring Congress's clear intent: CMES's chair, Emily Gottreich, is signatory to a letter urging the University of California not to reopen its Education Abroad Program (EAP) to Israel in 2009, seven years after it suspended the program following the State Department's inclusion of Israel on its travel warning list.
Gottreich's action, writes Lamborn, "is especially egregious coming from a chair of a Title VI funded center and raises serious legal questions regarding her continued leadership of CMES." That's because as head of a Title VI National Resource Center, she is required by the Higher Education Act to give "assurances" that the center she heads will "maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center."
Thus, Gottreich's signature raises a clear conflict of interest. Will she comply with her obligations under Title VI, or will she follow her own publicly declared position? There is no way to know. The letter on the EAP to Israel — drafted by the rabidly anti-Israel, pro-BDS activist Marcy Newman — stands reason on its head to argue that reopening the program at Hebrew University "would not reflect well on the UC's commitment to the universal right to education," as if expanding study abroad opportunities for UC students constricts rather than widens their educational horizons.
Equally contradictory is the anti-Israel letter's charge that reopening EAP to Israel would constitute an "abrogation of [UC's] commitment to provide a non-discriminatory educational environment for all of its students." That is, according to anti-Israel activists like Gottreich, achieving a fair educational environment requires discriminating against both students wishing to study in Israel and the state of Israel itself. Joined by her CMES colleague Keith Feldman, Gottreich displayed the same prejudice by signing a "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance" by the vehemently anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace because, as Lamborn notes, "its introduction includes the statement 'Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.'" Although the measure passed, their objection further demonstrates their disdain toward Jewish students and the Jewish state.
Gottreich's tenure as chair of a federally funded center should end.
Given her unwillingness to follow clearly stated federal guidelines for the use of Title VI funds, Gottreich's tenure as chair of a federally funded center should end. At the very least, anyone in her position should be required, as suggested by George Mason Law professor David Bernstein regarding pro-BDS administrators, to "publicly and contractually disavow any intention of adhering to [a pro-] BDS position while serving as administrators: no boycotting Israeli academic institutions, no discrimination against students or faculty who have ties to Israeli institutions or academic journals...."
Strong action on this issue is particularly urgent now thanks the higher education lobby's efforts to leverage the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 to squeeze as much relief money from Washington as possible. State budgets are facing shortfalls thanks to massive layoffs and unemployment in the private sector; university donors have cut back as their personal finances shrink. Yet, absent significant reform efforts, UCB should be turned away when it comes begging for even more taxpayer dollars.
The more immediate question, however, is straightforward: is UCB following applicable law on Title VI funds? The Duke/UNC example, and available evidence, would suggest not. If, after an investigation, UCB refuses to address Lamborn's complaints, DoE should end federal support for CMES.
Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum and director of its Campus Watch program.