Two American universities have been contacted by the Education Department in regards to their controversial Middle Eastern studies programs. Duke University and the University of North Carolina have been asked by the Department to change the program’s curriculum after students had filed formal complaints about the lack of “positive imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region,” according to The New York Times.
The inquiry comes from an extensive investigation from the Education Department’s secretary, Betsy DeVos, who has evidently become “… increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education,” reports The New York Times. The Department explained their investigation demonstrated not enough focus on the circumstances regarding the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East, ranging in event history from the past leading up to contemporary times. The religions categorized under the ‘Middle East’ are the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as Zoroastrianism, Druze, Baha’is faith, Yazidism, and more.
To drive their point home about the essentialism of proper Middle-Eastern curriculums in universities, the department expanded their investigation into the Palestine-Israel conflict, a hot and polarizing topic that has left many American campuses politically divided.
Miriam Elman, an Associate Professor at Syracuse University and Executive Director of Academic Engagement Network, an organization dedicated to opposing the boycott-Israel movement, has become a defender of the Education Department. She claims “if you want to be biased and show an unbalanced view of the Middle East, you can do that, but you’re not going to get federal and taxpayer money”.
According to The NY Times, pro-Palestine groups have long opposed the Department, accusing them of “intimidation” and “infringing on academic freedom”. But the department has stood firmly alongside Israel, reminding schools that the futures that they envision depend entirely on how willing they are to contest Israel as a political party.
The schools being targeted by the department in this threat are Duke and U.N.C. – in fact, the Duke-U.N.C. Consortium for Middle-Eastern Studies was discovered to be in jeopardy with Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Title VI is a legislature designed for international studies and foreign language programs at colleges nationwide. As explicitly stated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance”. After close investigation, The Education Department concluded that the Middle-Eastern Studies programs violated Title VI given that “foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken a back seat to other priorities.”
To begin the process of undoing everything the Department has deemed irresponsible, it requires the consortium to submit a proposal outlining the changes they will be implementing. They have also requested highlighting future events that the consortium will endorse, which new classes will be added to the curriculum, and a list of all the appointed professors that will be teaching these courses.