November 25, 2003

New bill threatens intellectual freedom in area studies

Every institution, kulchural as well as political, is
being subverted...

Yale Daily News: Portraying academic institutions, particularly area studies programs, as hotbeds for anti-American sentiment, proponents of the bill proposed the creation of an advisory board that has the final word on curricula taught at Title VI institutions, course materials assigned in class, and even the faculty who are hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding.

http://www.yaledailynews.com/article.asp?AID=23954

ACADEMIC FREEDOMS | BENITA SINGH

Published Thursday, November 6, 2003
New bill threatens intellectual freedom in area studies

The 1996 Solomon Amendment, which denies federal
funding to institutions of higher learning that refuse
to allow military recruiters on campus, once seemed to
be the gravest attack by the government on academic
freedom. Yet it is actually only the beginning of what
seems to be a string of attempts by the federal
government to dictate what takes place at both public
and private universities across the country.

This past month, Congress passed HR 3077, the
"International Studies in Higher Education Act of
2003." The bill reauthorizes and extends Title VI
programs that ensure that public funds are not used to
support or further racial discrimination at
educational institutions. Since 1964, area studies
programs and the study of underrepresented languages
have been supported by Title VI funding.

Yet the bill's high and just proceedings end there. HR
3077 was first proposed in June, at a Congressional
hearing on "International Programs in Higher Education
and Questions about Bias." Portraying academic
institutions, particularly area studies programs, as
hotbeds for anti-American sentiment, proponents of the
bill proposed the creation of an advisory board that
has the final word on curricula taught at Title VI
institutions, course materials assigned in class, and
even the faculty who are hired in institutions that
accept Title VI funding.

Using the Solomon Amendment as precedent, the advisory
board will also ensure that programs receiving Title
VI funding encourage students to enter careers in
government, including those related to
national-security, by requiring that recruiters from
U.S. government agencies be given regular access to
students. And just like the unjust and detrimental
Solomon Amendment, HR 3077 suppresses the free-speech
rights of academic institutions as it threatens to
remove Title VI funding from any center that engages
in or abets a boycott of national security
scholarships.

The basis of our government's deep-seated paranoia
lies in the simple-minded testimony of conservative
academic Stanley Kurtz. Testifying in support of HR
3077 and the advisory board, Kurtz stated that "the
ruling intellectual paradigm in academic area studies
is called 'post-colonial theory.'" His erroneous
problem with that notion is that "the core premise of
post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a
scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and
cultures at the service of American power." The root
of anti-Americanism, according to Kurtz, is not our
repeated missteps abroad, unilateral occupation, or
the continuing deaths of innocent civilians, but
rather, post-colonial scholarship. His incredible
belief that post-colonial theory is plaguing academic
departments with a bias against America and the west
leads to his ultimate conclusion that Title VI
programs are putting national security at risk as they
indoctrinate their students with a hatred of America.

Beyond the plain absurdity of his testimony, the irony
of Kurtz's statements is that he falls victim to the
very difficulty that Edward Said, one of the first
pioneers of post-colonial theory, repeatedly attempted
to explain. In advocating for an advisory board, Kurtz
surrenders to the American and Euro-centric ideology
that the study of foreign languages and cultures
serves no greater purpose than serving American
interests. The notion that societies foreign to
America can be studied on their own terms, rather than
as a tool for U.S. "progress" stands entirely outside
of Kurtz's narrowed viewpoint. Contrary to his claim,
the "core premise of post-colonial theory" is not that
"the use of languages and services for American power"
is an unworthy enterprise. The core premise of
post-colonial theory is that the West has imagined and
represented the East in a way that is simple-minded,
in a way that is orientalist. Orientalism does not
concern itself with politics as Kurtz ingenuously
understands it. Rather, orientalism engages with the
politics of representation. And as bills such as HR
3077 continue to reduce foreign languages and cultures
to no more than studies that are "useful," the U.S.
government only perpetuates the orientalism to which
Said brought our attention with his landmark text.

The implications of HR 3077's intense nationalism are
frightening. Currently at Yale, the African Studies,
European Studies, Latin American and Iberian Studies,
Middle East Studies and East Asian Studies Departments
all receive significant amounts of funding from Title
VI. In the 2003-2004 academic year alone, the value of
grants Yale has received from Title VI totals $4.8
million. With the ratification of HR 3077, all of
these area studies and language programs are now
subject to government oversight. According to the
language of the bill, professors whose ideological
principles may not support U.S. practices abroad can
have their appointments terminated, any part of a
course's curriculum containing criticisms of U.S.
foreign policy can be censored, and any course deemed
entirely anti-American can be barred from ever being
taught.

HR 3077 represents yet another attack by the current
administration on our once-prized academic freedoms.
The Solomon Amendment, whose consequences Yale is
currently struggling with, set a fearsome and powerful
precedent for the continued infiltration of the
government into both public and private universities
such that supposed and illusory academic propaganda
can be replaced by another form of indoctrination that
is all too real. HR 3077 gives new meaning to the
horror of Kurtz's imagination.

Benita Singh is a senior in Branford College. Her
column appears on alternate Thursdays.


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Posted by richard at November 25, 2003 08:36 AM