A recent letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education to the Duke University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East studies programs threatened to withhold federal grant money over allegations that it promotes a pro-Islamic ideological agenda. It didn’t make many headlines, but it was evidence that at long last the overbearing Islamic activism on campuses vis-à-vis less militant Jewish and Christian groups will no longer be ignored in the name of academic freedom.
It has long been an open secret that the pronounced militancy of many Islamic activists is empowered by out-of-the-box anti-Establishment professors with course offerings that promote a positive view of Islam while virtually ignoring Judaism, Christianity, and other religions. This has not only led to Islamic domination of Middle East studies but also campus-wide anti-Semitic bias generally.
The DOE letter was published in the Federal Register and is seen as a move to put other universities on notice.
According to the Washington Post, the action represents a rare case of the federal government weighing in on the administration of an academic program, but is consistent with how Education Secretary Betsy Devos has tried to reshape American universities considered ideologically skewed.
The Education Department launched its investigation following a complaint from Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) about a conference sponsored by the consortium on the situation in Gaza. He wrote that he was told by constituents that there was “severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at [this] taxpayer-funded conference.” He said this presented a “deeply troubling picture.”
But critics said the agency’s focus was dangerously misplaced. A UNC professor said, “Academic experts who actually know the region, speak the languages and are immersed in the issues are the ones who have a full understanding of the Middle East and the subjects students need to explore to achieve that understanding. This is political meddling in matters of academic substance. As such, it’s a clear threat to academic freedom.”
We are not unmindful of the academic freedom issue here. But Jewish and Christian students cannot be left to the mercies of more vocal and belligerent Islamic proponents who, by their intimidatory actions, defy the very notion of academic freedom as the intellectual clash of ideas.