A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Thursday heard charges that federally financed international-studies programs at American colleges and universities are biased against U.S. foreign policy and should be more tightly regulated.
The foreign-language and area-studies programs, which are supported under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, "tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy," Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, told the Subcommittee on Select Education. He said that the centers were not only ideologically biased but also sought to undermine American foreign policy by actively discouraging students from working for the federal government.
Representatives of higher-education groups, however, strongly defended the programs.
"Title VI does not perpetuate, encourage, or support monolithic viewpoints or ideologies," said Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education. He said that more than 1,000 students who graduated in 2001 from international-studies centers supported under Title VI were civilian employees of the federal government and that an additional 400 worked for the U.S. military.
"Almost all of the criticism is being leveled against a small and specific part of the Title VI programs," Middle East studies centers, Mr. Hartle said. He also noted that of the 118 area-studies centers supported by Title VI, just 15 focused on the Middle East, and that they consumed about only $4-million of the $86.2-million Title VI budget. "This criticism is exaggerated and misguided," he said. "It is a fairly small part of Title VI that has generated controversy."
Mr. Kurtz, however, argued that Congress needs to create a supervisory board to manage the Title VI programs and root out bias.
Gilbert W. Merkx, vice provost for international affairs at Duke University, and Mr. Hartle both opposed such a board.
"I do not think a board would be effective since we had such a board in the 1970s, and it didn't work very well," Mr. Merkx said. He said he thought that the current peer-review process was working well, but he also recommended creating an interagency board made up not of politicians but of representatives from different federal agencies, such as the Departments of Defense, Education, and Homeland Security, to verify that the centers were following through with their stated purposes.
Mr. Hartle said that if the federal government were to take a role in determining whether or not the programs at area-studies centers were bias-free, it would favor the views of whichever party was in power.
Mr. Kurtz also recommended in his testimony that Congress cut the budget for Title VI programs. He proposed taking the $20-million that was added to Title VI programs following September 11, 2001, and giving it to the Defense Language Institute to support "scholarships for students interested in good quality, full-time jobs at our defense and intelligence agencies."
Mr. Hartle responded that the Title VI centers were "a priceless national resource" that is "working well and does not need to be substantially modified" when the Higher Education Act is reauthorized this year.