At this week’s national meeting of the Association for Professional Schools and International Affairs, representatives from 30 educational institutions, including Yale, will debate the new International Studies and Higher Education Act. The act, which passed last month in the House of Representatives, could increase government oversight of international studies programs, including Yale’s.
Anticipating that the Senate will soon discuss legislation similar to the act, educators have expressed hope that adopting a unified position at this week’s meeting may enable them to influence the Senate’s decision. We agree, and hope the position adopted embraces the bill’s laudable commitment to area studies but remains critical of federal intrusion into university curricula.
The bill, HR 3077, was initially proposed in June as a post-Sept. 11 renewal of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which, since the 1960’s, has provided federal funding for area studies and the study of underrepresented languages. But HR 3077 was also proposed amid concerns that the curricula of international studies programs were too unbalanced — and too anti-American. To address this concern, the act would create a federal advisory committee to oversee the curricula of foreign language and area studies programs that receive government funding. The Yale Center for International and Area Studies, which receives more than $5 million of federal funding annually, would be subject to any such curricular review. Despite drawing considerable fire for the proposed advisory committee, a watered-down version of the bill — but one that still includes the creation of the committee — received widespread and bipartisan support in the House, which passed it on Oct. 21.
The creation of an advisory board has drawn criticism from those who fear that the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress would use it to prohibit professors and universities from criticizing American foreign policy. We share the concern that such a committee may turn out to be more than “advisory” and find ourselves wary, as we have been before, of federal input or control of what universities teach. Even if the Bush administration is well-behaved, such input into curricula opens the door to dangerous behavior in the future and sets the precedent that it is acceptable for the federal government to control higher education as long as it offers sufficient financial rewards.
The little press this bill has received has almost been solely focused on this committee. But there is much more to the bill — which substantially increases funding of area studies and encourages diversity — and it’s a shame that the strings attached to the money have forced educators to qualify their support of these important goals. The American Council on Education has expressed both support for HR 3077 as well as continuing doubts about the advisory committee. We hope the APSIA adopts the same position and joins ACE and other organizations in questioning the creation of an advisory board. We urge the educators meeting this week to express their doubts about the committee — we have doubts, too — but not to discount what the bill does have to offer.
The congressmen have done well to allocate new funds and renew federal commitment to important national programs, but they have gone a step too far in trying to influence the actual content of these programs. The legislators should get back to legislatating and leave education in the hands of those best qualified to design it — the educators themselves.