The Department of Education has started requiring universities that receive federal funding for Middle East Studies centers to report on how their programs are including diverse perspectives and a wide range of views. This is a very important first step to ensure that Middle East Studies programs do not succumb to political one-sidedness. For several years, critics have charged that many of these programs have become highly politicized, monolithically anti-Israel sources of miseducation and bias. The new requirement sends a welcome signal to universities that the Department is now looking more closely at this issue, although there is still more to be done in order to ensure accountability for these programs.
Title VI of the Higher Education Act (HEA) contains provisions for funding area studies programs at post-secondary institutions. Title VI requires that the area studies programs that receive funding must represent "diverse perspectives and a wide range of views." However, in practice these programs often do not actually represent diverse perspectives and a wide range of views, with the troubling result that many Middle East Studies programs end up promoting views which are politically one-sided against Israel.
Previously, schools only had to state their intention of fulfilling the diverse perspectives requirement in their initial application and were subject to "no measure of accountability after receiving taxpayer funding" through Title VI, a problem that the Brandeis Center and our colleagues identified in our Joint Statement on the Misuse of Federal Funds under Title VI. The Center had urged the Department to consider adding a diverse perspectives reporting requirement for grantees to ensure greater accountability. LDB has also recommended that the Department monitor institutions that receive Title VI funding in our publication The Morass of Middle East Studies: Title VI of the Higher Education Act and Federally Funded Area Studies.
The performance reporting system for recipients of Title VI area studies grants has recently been updated to include a requirement for grantees to report on how they are fulfilling the diverse perspectives requirement. The revisions were reflected on the reporting form beginning December 1, 2015. The updated form requires the grantees to include in their annual spring reports "examples of how the activities funded by the grant reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs."
Under the new approach, the Department of Education will be able to collect and use information on how programs that receive Title VI funding are fulfilling the diverse perspectives requirement, which will better inform their decisions on the continuation of funding for area studies programs. Schools, in turn, will be reminded of the importance of fulfilling the diverse perspectives requirement, which may have a positive effect on the quality of Middle East Studies programs in the future. This is a step in the right direction, and if the Department and Congress expand on this new development, there may be even greater progress toward accountability in the future.