By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Today, a part of that initiative, now called Title VI of the Higher Education Act, has been turned into a political punching bag by hard-right ideologues cashing in on 9/11 paranoia. Last October, egged on by Middle East Quarterly editor Martin Kramer, the Hoover Institution’s Stanley Kurtz and, from a discreet distance, Campus Watch’s Daniel Pipes, Congress passed HR 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which is now before the Senate.
The bill has two features that scare people who actually work in language and international-studies programs. The first is the creation of a politically appointed, seven-member advisory committee, two of whom would come from government security organizations such as the DHS. The other is the measure’s call to identify and cultivate immigrant communities “critical to the national security of the United States.” This last component supposedly arose in response to the scarceness of Arabic speakers in America’s armed forces and intelligence organizations. (Even though the Army’s Defense Language Institute in Monterey saw fit to fire 37 gay linguists, including several Arabic speakers, after 9/11.)
It is the advisory board, however, that causes the most concern on campuses, although the bill’s proponents point out that the panel would not supervise curricula or other aspects of teaching. What clearly prompted the ire of Messrs. Kurtz, Kramer and Pipes is the lingering shadow of the late literary scholar Edward Said, whom they blame for what they see as an anti-American tinge to Middle East–studies departments and centers. Under the proposed legislation, if an institution refuses to be “advised” by the proposed board, it would lose its share of the $80 million that Title VI will distribute to foreign-language and international-studies departments this year.
“Those people are the new McCarthyites,” Laura Nader told the Weekly. “They’re extremely dangerous because they’re saying we should be ignorant of our enemies. It’s shameful that Kurtz is an anthropologist.”
Gil Merkx, vice provost for international affairs at Duke University, has been a point man in the academy’s efforts to stop the act. He notes that attacks on Title VI are hardly new — both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan tried to kill the program because of academic criticism of their respective wars in Vietnam and Central America, even though no area-studies department ever takes an editorial stance on policy issues. Nixon did get an advisory board to oversee Title VI, but seats on it soon became political patronage gifts.
“One member from Texas owned a costume company that made cheerleader costumes,” Merkx told the Weekly. “The board became an ineffectual excuse to fly presidential donors to Washington, and the first President Bush quietly dropped it.”
The proposed new board would be a much more serious affair.
“The board would be authorized to utilize security agencies,” Merkx said. “It could collect and initiate FBI and CIA information and intelligence gathering on faculty, it could hold hearings and investigate grantees’ political activities.”
Merkx said he was attacked by Pipes’ Sharonist Campus Watch Web site after he testified in Congress against HR 3077.
“This legislation’s supporters are anxious to get on this board and drive agendas because they want a pro-Israeli, Likud perspective reflected in every program. The bill says that area studies departments must reflect the full range of perspectives on issues, but no department has those kinds of resources — it would be like requiring every biology department to teach creation theory. No university would accept such funding.”
The changes to Title VI were not, it should be pointed out, initiated by DHS, and the proposed International Studies Act is but part of a national push by the right to create “balanced faculties” through affirmative-action programs that would set aside quotas at universities for conservative professors. However, it’s a measure of the department’s stature that all discussion about the act refers to DHS members as possible, if not probable, candidates to fulfill the security faction of the advisory board.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks traumatized an America that had long felt apart from international politics and impervious to the violence that plagues much of the rest of the world. Suddenly, it seemed, death might come hurtling from the sky at any moment. “Every landmark,” The New York Timesnoted, “— the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty — looks as though it could be molded not with concrete but with marzipan.” Even if George W. Bush were to be turned out of office in November, the Department of Homeland Security is here to stay. It is already too big and too self-perpetuating to go away, and every day its presence on American campuses grows. The Cold War showed how even hard-science research is affected by political climate, and, of course, the Bush White House has displayed a whimsical attitude in selecting which science is “real” and which is “pagan” when it comes to matters like global warming and birth control. The impulse to return to the time before 9/11 is natural, but Homeland Security’s new role in shaping academic life is leaving behind a peculiar taste, and it isn’t marzipan.
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