Tuesday, June 17, 2003

University repositories of tax dollars 

Via Critical Mass, Stanley Kurtz is asking whether the government should subsidize through Title VI of the Higher Education Act those programs which breed "extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy", particularly in Middle East studies programs. The twist is that while these programs and universities accept federal dollars for just about everything under the sun, they do not accept grants that provide scholarships to students who in return work for the US government. This was the decision for example of the Middle East Studies Association of North America,
A government-funded program that emphasized cooperation between the U.S. academy and government agencies responsible for intelligence and defense will increase the difficulties and dangers of such academic activities, and may foster the already widespread impression that academic researchers from the United States are directly involved in government activities.
Well that would be all fine and well if applied consistently. There is the example of Hillsdale College which refuses to accept government aid of any kind in return for not being bound to carry out the dictates of the federal education bureaucracy. But others are being more selective, and Kurtz wonders if it's all to do with anti-American sentiment among these researchers. The boycotters argue in reply that students who accept the scholarships have a bull's eye painted on them. I never drew any of these dollars, but as a contractor working on overseas assignments I can tell you the suspicion is there regardless. (I did get one of those National Defense Student Loans in the 1970s, but repayment was the only string attached.)

What to make of this? On one hand, Kurtz is clearly opposed to the views of Edward Said, whom Kurtz believe has led a generation of Middle East scholars down the road to an anti-American viewpoint. And one might think this is just a battle between them. But there's more: Many universities who cannot (if public) or choose not (if private) to forgo students receiving federal financial aid must cope with federal mandates on everything from affirmative action to peanut butter allergies. Is it really that much to ask that those that take federal dollars not be allowed to refuse students who choose to take a grant to learn foreign languages in return for a chance to help in national defense?