March 09, 2004

Colleges at risk

The battle against censorship and heavy-handed intrusion from Congress goes ever on. Professor Juan Cole is asking for action protesting aspects of a bill making its way through Congress. From a USA Today editorial:

Michigan and dozens of other universities have expanded their Middle Eastern studies using a $90 million-a-year federal grant program designed to increase the number of Arabic translators and analysts the government can hire. But some squeamish members of Congress who don't trust what university professors teach about Middle East politics jeopardize the efforts.

In response to complaints that some professors are spreading anti-American or anti-Israel ideas, Jewish groups and conservatives have called for a government-mandated panel to oversee the programs and ensure students are exposed to balanced views on the Middle East. Michigan and other involved schools now warn that such intrusion into their academic affairs could force them to sever ties to the programs.

In yet another editorial, the Village Voice explains how this legislation came about:

"This is part of a wider campaign to intimidate," asserts Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies at Columbia and head of its Middle East Institute. "It won't work with my generation, but it will discourage younger scholars from going into the field. One of the objectives is to put the universities in an impossible position—either to accept partisan intrusion into academic affairs or just not take the money." According to Amy Newhall, executive director of the Middle East Studies Association, the effect will be counterproductive: fewer and fewer students studying Arabic, Pashtu, Turkish, Urdu.

Professor Cole has addresses and telephone/fax numbers of the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has purview over this thing (HR3077). Here's a link to Thomas, the search tool for Congressional legislation. Type HR3077 in the search box, then select the version that's been referred to the Senate.

If you think Congress should let universities do what they do without attempting to legislate what the curriculum should cover, you should read his post and take action. Neither of my Senators is on the committee, or I'd be burning up the fax line. He has a link to a description of just what it is that Mid-Eastern Studies departments do, too. It's quite an informative post about a lousy idea. You'd think, in an era when we need all the Middle East scholars we can find, this sort of nonsense would be laughed out of the halls, and maybe it will be, but did the authors of this bill check their common sense at the door? It's bad enough our military fires Arabic translators because they're gay. Now this?

Posted by Linkmeister at March 9, 2004 12:01 AM