If the US House of Representatives has its way, ‘Big Brother' will be watching over the program the US government traditionally funds to support university international studies.
Big Brother will come in the form of an ‘advisory board,' which would have at least two appointees representing national security agencies. The board would oversee curricula, course materials, and even the hiring of faculty at institutions that accept federal government money for international studies.
While all area studies programs will be affected, the clear target of this legislative effort is Middle East studies, which is accused of turning out ‘Arabists' who disagree with current US foreign policy.
The advisory board idea was first proposed and is strongly supported by many neoconservatives, including self-designated ‘watchdog' organizations, like Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch. Pipes has a long history of opposing Arab-Israeli peace efforts, and has frequently made disparaging remarks about Arabs and Muslims.
Here's the background:
Last year, a House committee held a hearing on bias in international studies programs. The advisory board idea was first discussed at this hearing. A bill was then passed by the committee and then by the full House with few changes. It is due to be considered by the US Senate after the summer recess.
During the House hearing, some witnesses portrayed academic institutions, particularly area studies programs, as hotbeds for anti-American sentiment. One of them was Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, who railed against the supposed ‘bias' in Middle Eastern studies, and argued for more professors who "support American foreign policy." According to Kurtz, Middle Eastern studies programs are rife with anti-American professors.
Kurtz and like-minded colleagues such as Pipes and Martin Kramer have long opposed this alleged bias. The Campus Watch website compiles dossiers on professors who are allegedly ‘anti-American.'
The advisory board concept is opposed by virtually all academic organizations concerned with higher education, by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Said the committee: "… At this most critical time when as a country and as a people we need to know all sides of a conflict to bring forth a secure nation and a just foreign policy, those who seek this knowledge are being labeled by this bill and this movement as insufficiently patriotic. This measure threatens to suppress dialogue."
Terry W. Hartle, senior vice-president for government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, testified that the criticism of international studies programs is largely a "triumph of ideology over analysis."
And the ACLU, in a letter to the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over the legislation, charged that the advisory board "represents a serious threat to academic freedom in higher education…. Inherent in the notion of academic freedom is that the government should not be in the business of controlling academic inquiry."
Recently we heard compelling testimony from members of the 9/11 Commission about the critical need for policymakers to receive ‘competitive analysis' from our counter-terrorism intelligence operations. The need for competitive analysis in presenting foreign policy options is no less critical. US foreign policy will be as ill-served by ‘groupthink' in its universities as was the intelligence community before 9/11.
William Fisher is a regular contributor to the Middle East Times.