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New bill threatens intellectual freedom in area studies

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New bill threatens intellectual freedom in area studies

by Benita Singh

Yale Daily News

November 6, 2003

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.

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