UT students and professors have mixed reactions to a U.S. House bill that would directly affect four of the University's international studies centers.
International programs across the country are one step closer to being monitored by a federal advisory board after House Bill 3077 passed through the Committee on Education and the Workforce Thursday.
The bill, reported favorably to the full House, would create an independent board to evaluate programs that receive federal funding through Title VI of the Higher Education Act. The board would "encourage diverse perspectives and reflect the full range of views on ... international affairs," according to the bill.
Critics of the bill suspect the influence of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative group that claims to have found an anti-American bias within some collegiate programs.
UT Federal Relations Vice Chancellor William Shute said he is working in Washington, D.C., to ensure the board isn't given too much power.
Despite the concerns of many in higher education, Republicans and Democrats supported the bill in a bipartisan move.
"As we move forward with the bill, I hope we will signal the importance of international education," said U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. "International education is increasingly important in today's world when we are part of a global community where our interests are directly tied to the interests of other countries."
The University receives about $2 million a year for the Russian and Eastern European, Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern centers. They compete with other institutions for those grants.
Nicolas Shumway, director of the Institute of Latin American Studies, expressed concern about the bill. The grant money the center receives is essential for attracting graduate students and resources, he said.
"The bill sounds horrendous to me - checking reading lists and syllabi," Shumway said. "We deal with controversial issues all the time, but the real question here is academic freedom."
Mani Mostofi, a Middle Eastern studies graduate student, said he sees the bill directly targeting his department.
"This affects my daily life on campus because of the culture of fear in terms of what professors and students are willing to say and do," Mostofi said. "If we don't have good discourse, we can't have good foreign policy."
Assistant professor Robert Oppenheim teaches a class about U.S. relations with North and South Korea since 1945. He worries that the advisory board may try to influence the content of classes.
"Some of the stuff we've read could be construed as critical to U.S. foreign policy," Oppenheim said. "I'm not sure that the purpose of Asian studies is to advance American interests. A careful consideration of history is in the country's best interest."
Other students think the bill is a good idea.
Bryan Pravda, architecture senior and Young Conservatives of Texas member, said citizens have a right to know where their tax dollars are going.
"There is a very biased view being taught in the classrooms at UT, and hopefully, this bill will help to expose that," Pravda said. "We clearly have an obligation to be responsible for what is taught."