A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday that would give the federal government greater oversight over federally financed international-studies programs at American colleges.
The bill (HR 3077), which was passed by the House education panel's Subcommittee on Select Education, would create a new advisory board that would closely monitor the foreign-language and area-studies programs, which are supported under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. The subcommittee took this action after hearing complaints from conservative scholars that some of the centers supported by these programs purvey an "anti-American" bias (The Chronicle, July 4).
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who heads the subcommittee, said that creating the advisory board is necessary "to insure the appropriate use of taxpayer funds." College lobbyists, however, said the allegations of bias are overblown, and they worried that the new board was being created to interfere with curricular decisions on their campuses.
The House subcommittee also approved a second bill (HR 3076) that would renew several federal programs that provide fellowships for graduate students.
The two bills are among four currently under consideration as Congress works on extending the Higher Education Act, the law that governs most federal student-aid programs. In July, the House passed two bills (HR 2211 and HR 438) that would create stricter accountability requirements for teacher-education programs and increase student-loan forgiveness for some schoolteachers (The Chronicle, July 10).
But the legislation creating the board to oversee the international-studies programs was by far the most controversial provision in the two bills that were considered on Wednesday.
The subcommittee's Democratic lawmakers agreed to support the international-studies bill, but said that they were not entirely happy with the monitoring provision. "We still have some work to do to ensure that this new board advances international education and helps us achieve the purposes of Title VI without involving the federal government in curricular decisions or limiting academic freedom," said Rep. Rubén E. Hinojosa of Texas, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee.
Mr. Hoekstra said that he took the Democrats' concerns seriously, and that he had already taken steps to ease them.
For instance, the original version of the bill gave the secretary of education the responsibility for appointing all seven of the board's members. But after Democratic lawmakers and college officials complained that such a set-up would give the party in charge of the White House too much control of the board, Mr. Hoekstra agreed to give the leaders of the House and Senate the authority to choose four of the board's members.
College lobbyists applauded the change, but said they remained worried about the amount of power entrusted to the board. "The authority that the legislation gives the board seems to be quite open-ended. There don't appear to be any restrictions on what it can do," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.
College officials are particularly worried that the legislation would allow the federal government "to get into the business of reviewing syllabi and approving reading lists," Mr. Hartle said.
The graduate-education bill would do the following:
- Require the secretary of education to make it a priority to award Jacob K. Javits Fellowships to students who are enrolled in graduate courses in advanced linguistics and courses that prepare teachers to teach students with limited English proficiency. Javits Fellowships go to students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences whom the Education Department deems worthy of government support because of their academic performance and financial need.
- Direct the secretary of education to make it a priority to award fellowships through the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Program to colleges that prepare math, science and special-education teachers. Colleges that receive funds from this program provide fellowships to students who are studying subjects that the secretary deems critical to the nation.
- Maintain the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program, which provides minority or economically-disadvantaged college students with information, preparation, and financial assistance to help them succeed in law school.