Education

Betsy DeVos Threatens To Cut Funding for Duke-UNC Middle East Studies. Why Stop There?

The Department of Education alleges the universities' research is discriminatory against certain religions.

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The Duke-UNC Chapel Hill Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMES) is fighting to retain a federal grant after the U.S. Department of Education accused the group of displaying a disqualifying bias against Christianity and Judaism. While the department's decision is a potential affront to free speech and academic freedom, it's also a great example of why the federal government shouldn't dole out such grants to anyone.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opened an investigation in July at the behest of Rep. George Holding (R–N.C.), who alleged that a recent consortium conference, titled "Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities," was rife with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments. In 2018, the Office of Postsecondary Education awarded CMES a four-year grant for $235,000 per year as part of a program meant to train U.S. students to become global leaders. After coming across the conference, Holding wanted it revoked.

In an August letter to the consortium, the Department of Education alleges that "most of the Duke-UNC CMES activities supported with Title VI funds are unauthorized." Such funds should be spent only on preparing participants for roles in diplomacy, national security, international business, and education, and the Duke-UNC Chapel Hill Consortium offers "very little serious instruction preparing individuals to understand the geopolitical challenges to U.S. national security and economic needs but quite a considerable emphasis on advancing ideological priorities," the department says. In short, CMES is too pro-Islam.

Students who participated in the program told The Daily Tar Heel that they disagree with the accusations made by the congressman and the Department of Education. Maggie Barkowitz, a Jewish graduate of UNC Chapel Hill who attended several events at the CMES, said that she never encountered any anti-Semitism. The focus on Islam made sense from her vantage point, as the university's department is called the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies⁠. She also noted that her classes weren't biased against any particular religion.

In a letter to Robert King, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education, the Duke-UNC CMES tried to dispel the notion that its activities disqualify it from federal assistance. "The Consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program," writes Terri Magnuson, UNC's Vice Chancellor for Research.

Reactions have been predictably polarized. One such response came from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which argued against the Department of Education. "The federal government may fairly condition the award of funds on the satisfaction of certain criteria," FIRE wrote in a statement, "but determining how best to satisfy grant terms that involve academic or pedagogical judgments, especially those which contain ambiguity, should remain the province of the academy." Some of the requirements are too vague, they say, like proving ideological "balance."

The pro-speech group is not wrong. It is difficult to fairly measure fairness. Such judgments hinge on who is doing the judging. But if it is impossible to measure the wider social benefit of a concentrated subsidy, why are tax dollars paying for it?

We ask this question of all kinds of subsidies. Tax credits for Hollywood studios and professional sports teams are considered by economists to be a waste of money. Government subsidies for firearms manufacturers would likely offend half the country, and that's before you take into consideration they've been secured by lawmakers who favor gun control! Pick a subsidy, take a poll, and you'll find some group of people who find that subsidy offensive, useless, or otherwise objectionable.

Add our bloated national debt on top of that, and people have good reasons to question the merits of funding programs like the one run by Duke and UNC, two well-funded, untaxed, elite universities with endowments valued at $8 billion and $5 billion respectively.

Why not do away with these grants altogether? Let the market determine which programs are actually preparing the diplomats of tomorrow and encourage philanthropists to fund the programs that can't quantify their value. This spares taxpayers the frustration of funding policies and programs they don't like or understand and the people at CMES and other academic institutions the position of justifying their existence to culture-warring bureaucrats. Government, meanwhile, can and should stick to the provision of basic services.

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  1. “While the department’s decision is a potential affront to free speech”

    No one required them to take the money.

  2. “While the department’s decision is a potential affront to free speech and academic freedom,”

    I’m sure the bigot did. Denying bigotry is evidence of bigotry, I’m told. She needs to sit down, shut up, and and have this uncomfortable conversation.

    1. Shit wrong quote lol

      “She also noted that her classes weren’t biased against any particular religion.”

      I’m sure the bigot did. Denying bigotry is evidence of bigotry, I’m told. She needs to sit down, shut up, and and have this uncomfortable conversation.

  3. As the first paragraph notes, this is an excellent example of why the government should not be paying for such things.

    Tie the money and its uses together. Make the people who want something, pay for it.

    Like everything else coercive monopolistic government does, what some people like, others despise. Government is a sledge hammer. It is not subtle or selective. Everything it does is divisive, guaranteed to anger more people than it pleases: it either does the wrong thing entirely, or it does the right thing wrongly. I doubt any government program pleases more than 1% of the population.

    1. this is an excellent example of why the government should not be paying for such things….Make the people who want something, pay for it.

      So how do you think the government should fund ITS OWN needs re people who speak foreign languages (eg Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Pashto, Urdu, Bengali, Amharic, Javanese, Hausa, etc) that businesses don’t use? Should we just shut down all our embassies and bring everyone home and insist that all foreigners learn to fucking speak English or we won’t gather any intelligence about them? How about actual knowledge of different parts of the world?

      This is already a huge problem for the US and is a major reason our foreign policy fails so often. We are STUPID about the world. And in particular about pretty much everything outside Europe or anything that requires effort cuz it’s so different from the US. Which is precisely why we have to limit our allies to those who speak our language and know the codewords that jerk our knees – and we can’t even find out that they have their own agenda that they intend to drag us into.

      1. The USFG already has a world class foreign language program in the Defense Language Institute and it can teach almost any language, to full fluency so no we wont have to “close down” all our embassies

  4. Let the market determine which programs are actually preparing the diplomats of tomorrow and encourage philanthropists to fund the programs that can’t quantify their value.

    Can Reason not be racist for two seconds?

  5. This is not a free speech issue, and we shouldn’t talk about it as if it were one.

    The question is whether the Duke-UNC Middle East Studies program should be eligible for federal funding, not whether they should be free to say what they please.

    The question wasn’t whether VMI or Citadel should be allowed to discriminate against women. The question was whether they should continue to receive funding from the taxpayers while doing so.

    The reason VMI and Citadel relented in admitting women was because they couldn’t exist in their current capacity without the support of the taxpayers, and it is likely that the Duke-UNC Middle East Studies program wouldn’t exist without taxpayer funding either. The reason they need taxpayer funding is probably because they couldn’t exist without it. Neither private individuals nor private institutions are exactly falling all over each other to fund and teach the Divestment from Israel movement of tomorrow–because of the shame. Citadel and VMI had the same “problem”.

    That being said, anyone who wants to run a military academy that discriminates against women without taxpayer funding should be free to do so, and any university that wants to train leaders to direct the divestment from Israel movement without taxpayer money should be free to do so.

    This isn’t about free speech.

    This is about taxpayer funding.

    1. They should have learned the saying “live by the sword, die by the sword”. I believe some middle easterner said it.

    2. “This is about taxpayer funding”. Exactly this, why in the fuck is the Fedgov even involved here other than passing out bribes. Just like a lot of their discretionary spending.

      1. Exactly this, why in the fuck is the Fedgov even involved here other than passing out bribes.

        Pretty sure you just answered your own question.

    3. “Neither private individuals nor private institutions are exactly falling all over each other to fund and teach the Divestment from Israel movement of tomorrow–because of the shame.”

      Isn’t that all the more reason for the government to fund it? You admit yourself that the programme wouldn’t exist without government funding. If the government wants capable diplomats for dealing with the middle east, these prospective diplomats will have to learn the landscape at some point, and that includes learning about the boycott and divestment movement, a major initiative on the part of the Palestinians for several years now. Or maybe you are arguing that this movement is too shameful to be talked about in American colleges.

  6. Ahh yes, the ole “any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic” trope.

    How about we cut Devos and put someone with a brain in there?

    1. “Ahh yes, the ole “any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic” trope.”

      I don’t see where that’s being alleged at all. That just seems to be the voices in your head.

      The allegation is that this program is political advocacy masquerading as scholarship–directly related to political advocacy groups that are using it to train leaders for their Divestment from Israel campaign.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disinvestment_from_Israel

      If you want taxpayer money to go to political advocacy for foreign interests, go to the Department of State. If you want to do political advocacy for Palestinian groups with your own money, you’re free to do so.

      I don’t see why taxpayer money should go to any political advocacy group under the guise of grants to university programs–be it Green Peace, Peta, or any other advocacy group that has everything or nothing to do with Israel.

      1. “The allegation is that this program is political advocacy masquerading as scholarship”

        The students are alleging that at all. The allegation comes from a congressman who presumably has little knowledge of the program or the middle east. Why take it at face value, especially when the article takes pains to point out that students involved claim that the program is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic.

    2. Better yet, eliminate her job and the whole Department of Education.

  7. “While the department’s decision is a potential affront to free speech and academic freedom…”

    How is not giving out taxpayer money an affront to free speech and academic freedom?

    1. Don’t get it either.

      Nobody is saying they cannot have racist classes.

      They’re being told WE won’t fund them.

  8. So nobody’s even going to bother looking to see what the complaint of bias was actually about? Because people love to use us Jews as tokens to cover their own asses and I assure you that you can’t trust that the program isn’t anti-Israel just because one Jew said so. A lot of Jews, especially the secular ones, are very anti-Israel.

    I would be very careful for any language regarding land claims and any ethnographic information about the peoples who occupy the so called Palestinian territories. There’s a lot of revisionism here aimed at distancing Jews from Israel and delegitimizing any Jewish presence in the region.

    1. A lot of Jews, especially the secular ones, are very anti-Israel.

      There’s a lot of revisionism here aimed at distancing Jews from Israel and delegitimizing any Jewish presence in the region.

      1. What’s your point? Jewish opposition to Israel has nothing to do with non-Jewish opposition to Israel.

        1. making sure you read what you wrote

  9. My takeaway from this story.

    For female DC bureaucrats and politicians:

    White Dresses are the new Red Dresses.

  10. I can’t believe there is actually an article on a libertarian website with a libertarian opinion, gobsmacked.

    1. “Libertarian” comes in a lot of flavors, and not all of us find all of them agreeable.

    2. “Government, meanwhile, can and should stick to the provision of basic services.”

  11. So the grant program was narrowly geared toward a specific result in training diplomats to be familiar with the Middle East, but not to have “gone native” as it were. The government does not believe the program’s goals have been achieved. Whether or not the government is correct on whether its goals are not met is a slightly different matter than whether it has the authority to pull funding for lack of performance.

  12. *points to map*

    This is the middle east. Do your best to avoid it.

    /U. Abattoir, PhD, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies

    1. That’s pretty good advice, lol.

  13. Defund every program with “Studies” in the name.

    1. That pretty well sums it up.

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