A bipartisan bill proposing to give the federal government expanded oversight over the nation’s federally-financed international studies programs has drawn sharp criticism from Yale professors. If the bill, which is working its way through Congress, passes, one of the institutions it will affect is the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, or YCIAS.
The International Studies in Higher Education Act would create a government advisory board to monitor curricula in federally-funded foreign language and area studies programs. The legislation, which was drafted by Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., passed in the House of Representatives on Oct. 21. The bill has moved to the Senate, which is expected to consider the legislation later this year and in early 2004.
Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Richard Jacobs said Yale has started lobbying key senators — including Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.– against parts of the proposed legislation. He said the University is concerned with Congress’ perception that some campus programs have an anti-American “bias.”
YCIAS Director Gustav Ranis said the bill, if passed, would threaten Yale’s academic freedom.
“I think it is a very dangerous precedent to have congressional supervision of what we teach and how we teach it in international affairs,” Ranis said.
The bill calls for the creation of a government advisory board to “monitor, apprise and evaluate” curricula at institutions such as YCIAS, with the goal of recommending “improvement” of the program.
Political science professor Richard Marcus said the bill ushers in “McCarthyism for the new millennium.”
“It’s more than just a violation of academic freedom,” Marcus said. “Even an academic governing board would be problematic in telling other academics what to do, but people from outside the academic world — people from the intelligence community — telling what can go on in a classroom, that’s where it gets scary.”
But Hoekstra said in a press release that the bill would “strengthen and improve” the state of American higher education.
“[The bill] updates the programs under [the 1965 Higher Education Act] to reflect our national security needs in the post-Sept. 11 era, as well as in the current international climate,” Hoekstra said in the press release. “Such programs not only foster knowledge of the world, but importantly, these programs train experts prepared to meet America’s national security needs.”
But Marcus said few students who participated in federally-funded international studies programs decide to work for the government upon graduation.
“The bill is saying, ‘Why are we paying for all of these area studies [programs] if we’re not benefiting from it in Washington? We don’t have people who speak Arabic, we don’t have people who know enough about the Middle East, we don’t have that sort of intellectual capital coming out of academia,’” Marcus said.
In a June 19 Congressional testimony, Stanford University researcher Stanley Kurtz said some federally-funded area studies centers need to balance their curricula. Kurtz cited the late Edward Said, a former Columbia University professor and Palestinian activist.
“My concern is that [federally] funded centers too seldom balance readings from Edward Said and his like-minded colleagues with readings from authors who support American foreign policy,” Kurtz said.
Marcus said some scholars, like Said, promote “anti-American” world views. He said he thinks these views anger the government.
“By teaching Edward Said, for instance, people are turned off by the idea of the United States as a savior, or that it’s good to work for the U.S. government,” Marcus said. “Whereas if you read something that is more mainstream — [it would represent] the role of the United States as a builder of democracy, and that’s what [Congress] wants to see at colleges.”
The government partially funds international and area studies programs at colleges and universities around the country, including YCIAS, which receives more than $5 million in federal funding each year.