Winfield Myers, director of Campus Watch at the Middle East Forum, spoke to participants in a December 18 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about Campus Watch's pivotal role in documenting the misuse of taxpayer funds and the questionable foreign funding sources of various Middle East studies centers at American universities.
A major focus of Campus Watch in 2020 was the widespread misuse of federal grants received by Middle East studies centers under Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The Title VI statute stipulates that these grants, usually in the neighborhood of $250,000-300,000 per year, be used for "the teaching of area studies and languages that will strengthen America's national security," said Myers. Instead, as Campus Watch research has shown, the monies are typically used to support "politicized, biased, anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Western teaching, scholarship, conferences, travel, you name it, in a variety of ways."
Campus Watch has worked in tandem with Clifford Smith of MEF's Washington Project to hold academia accountable for long-overlooked abuses. Campus Watch documents proof of the abuses, which Smith brings to the attention of policymakers, congressional leaders, and others in Washington D.C. to see "what might be done to rein them in."
During the Trump administration, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education Robert King were sympathetic to Title VI reform.
Campus Watch and the Washington Project organized a congressional letter-writing campaign requesting departmental investigations into various Middle East studies centers that were abusing their grants. These letters found a "sympathetic ear" among Secretary Betsy DeVos and other political appointees in the Department of Education (DoE) during the Trump administration, who began several investigations and completed one. In prior years, the DoE had "cozy relationships" with D.C.'s higher education lobby and various directors of Middle East studies centers. The latter, whom Myers dubbed "the higher education blob," pressed "for more money and less oversight," and largely got their way.
Myers and Smith also persuaded Senators Macro Rubio of Florida and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota to request a General Accounting Office (GAO) audit of Title VI across the board, encompassing some 400 programs. The GAO is a congressional department "not beholden to the executive branch" and is independent of who is president at the time.
Another focus of Campus Watch is educating policymakers about the lack of transparency in foreign funding of American universities. Myers said the problem is that "there is no way of knowing precisely in most cases what the money is to be used for." A recent DoE investigation found "six and a half billion dollars in gifts and contracts" in foreign funding over the past few years that had not been revealed by the recipients, and there is no legislative rule stating that the final destination of the gifts must be revealed. The largest foreign donor to American universities is Qatar. This small and "very radical" Gulf country pays for propaganda coming out of American universities that "is not friendly to the West, to America, to Israel, to our allies, and certainly not to our national security."
"The professoriate ... views itself as something of a priestly class set apart from the rest of mankind."
Myers said it is unclear how receptive to reform the DoE will be under the incoming Biden administration. "We'll see whether or not we can continue to work with them in this way. I certainly hope so." But he vowed to keep up the pressure for accountability on America's "professoriate," which "views itself as something of a priestly class set apart from the rest of mankind." He takes pride in the "degree of vitriol we receive from those we write about ... I know that we've hit home when that occurs." He closed by urging viewers to take action against politicized university programs in the states where they live: "Write your state legislators about them. Write the governor. Write to the board of governors of the university and to the president of the university, and demand ... intellectual diversity."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.