A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives could change the way college curriculum is taught in an effort to heighten students' participation in homeland security.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 paved the way for the imposition of various homeland security measures. One of these measures is the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted to combat terrorism. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the International Studies in Higher Education Act. According to the bill, H.R. 3077, the legislation reauthorizes international and foreign language studies programs under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.
Title VI of the Higher Education Act provides support for a critically important group of programs at colleges and universities that work to advance knowledge of world regions, encourage the study of foreign languages and train Americans to have international expertise and understanding to fulfill pressing national security needs.
The International Studies in Higher Education Act would update the programs under Title VI to reflect national security needs in the post-Sept. 11 era, as well as the current international climate.
H.R. 3077, which was authored by Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-MI, was approved by a voice vote with bipartisan support in September.
The Select Education Subcommittee heard from witnesses in July on the importance of international and foreign language studies in higher education. In particular, witnesses stressed these programs not only enrich knowledge and understanding, but also play a central role in training professionals with the expertise needed to fulfill national security needs.
Dan Ashlock, associate professor of mathematics, said H.R. 3077 will directly affect foreign language and international studies departments at Iowa State if it is initiated as a law. He said proposals similar to H.R. 3077 have failed in the past.
"This has been tried twice before," Ashlock said. "It was tried during the McCarthy era in the '50s and before with President John Adams when he passed the Alien and Sedition Acts."
Ashlock said one rationale for H.R. 3077 is the lack of Arabic-speaking Americans available to be translators and spies. He suggested teaching foreign language in elementary schools as a way to remedy the problem.
If the law is passed as a bill, one way for universities to reject the mandate is to refuse federal funding, Ashlock said. If that were the case, a university such as Iowa State would have to look for funding from the central administration, and possibly raise tuition, he said.
Iowa State receives $122,292,000 in federal funding each year for contracts and gift grants, said Carol Yanda, manager of accounting and reporting in the controller's office. In addition, the university also receives annual federal funding of $10,081,000 allocated to the Agricultural Experimental Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.
Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science, said the bill stems from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The H.R. 3077 comes on the heels of the World Trade Center attacks, so now there's this question of whether we should be teaching students how to become part of homeland security," Schmidt said. "The effort is to make professors teach more what the government considers to be positive values to make them more patriotic."
He said the federal government would have professors build in curriculum that would allow students to understand how to be proud of and defend the United States, Schmidt said.
The federal government may see a college course in U.S. foreign policy, where policy is examined and possibly scrutinized, as a threat to homeland security, Schmidt said.
"There is an anti-global criticism of American foreign policy that potentially leads to spreading Anti-Americanism," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said any time the federal government gives money to an institution, it's "for a purpose." There's no such thing as "free" government money, he said.
Schmidt said academic institution support for H.R. 3077 will depend on whether the institution agrees with how the federal government is asking it to spend the money.
"If [administration, faculty and staff] like and agree with those federal mandates -- like teaching about something that matches our own personal values, like diversity -- we have no problem with initiating those," Schmidt said. "However, if [the government] tells us how to do something with the money that we consider to be an interference of our freedoms and essentially an interference with our rights as intellectuals, we don't like or want that."
During the Cold War, language centers across the United States, which were designed to teach foreign language, applied for and received large sums of federal funding, Schmidt said. The money given was specifically aimed at fighting communism.
"It's almost like a new Cold War, but over Middle Eastern terrorism," Schmidt said. "In a way, it's the same discussion all over again, the question being: Should we let the federal government attach strings to money that's going to universities?"
Ashlock said the next step in the process is for the bill to go before the Senate. It's not certain at this time when that will occur, he said.