According to the Department of Education's website, Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA; not to be confused with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) "aims to prepare America's students with the global competencies necessary to become leaders who are highly competent in world languages, international studies, and the critical thinking skills to fill roles in national security, diplomacy, international business, and education."
The Title VI program fails to "provide an educational experience that offers balancing viewpoints."
Despite this, the senators wrote that "there appears to be several deficiencies" in the program that thwart its ability to "provide an educational experience that offers balancing viewpoints." In an apparent allusion to charges that Title VI-funded Middle East studies centers have included anti-Semitic material, they warn that such programs "were not intended to advance questionable ideological priorities, especially views that alienate specific religious minorities," and fail in "providing a full understanding of regions" where the languages under study are spoken.
Therefore, they want "a thorough examination" that will "determine the return on investment" of Title VI programs, especially their success in "delivering graduates that proceed to work in areas of national need and advance" U.S. security, "provide a balanced perspective," and "ensure the federal funds used by universities for campus activities align with those lawfully established under Title VI."
The letter escalates current efforts to crack down on potential misuse of HEA grants and makes them bicameral. Over the past 18 months, five Republican representatives have written Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to request investigations into Title VI-funded Middle East studies centers. Rubio and Cramer's letter expands upon their complaints to include all Title VI grants, not simply those supporting Middle East studies.
In fiscal year 2018, these recurring grants, which are normally renewed for four years, numbered 372 at the cost of $68,850,309. Although those supported include Centers for International Business Education and Fulbright-Hays dissertation assistance programs, among others, the bulk of funds support fellowships through the Foreign Language and Area Studies Program, which includes 105 grants totaling almost $31 million, and National Resource Centers, which includes 96 grants totaling almost $23 million. In addition to the Middle East, these two programs support work on Africa, Canada, East Asia, Latin America, Russia/Eastern Europe/Eurasia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Western Europe/Europe, and International studies.
An audit of Title VI centers will encounter academia's traditional hostility to federal oversight.
Although not large by federal standards, any forthcoming audit will encounter academia's traditional hostility to federal oversight on its use of taxpayer funds and substantial pushback from the institutions affected, the higher education lobby, and media allies. That resistance will grow rapidly if the GAO uncovers even a fraction of the misuse of grants that has long been common in Middle East studies centers, heretofore the sole targets of congressional calls for special scrutiny. Given the stakes – America's ability to produce area and language experts in numbers and quality sufficient to guarantee the nation's security – and the likelihood that Middle East studies centers aren't alone in their uses of Title VI grants to support politicized academic work, Rubio and Cramer are right to request a detailed review of the entire program.