The Trump administration is calling on the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Duke University to revise their joint Middle Eastern studies program or lose taxpayer funding. According to the Department of Education, the program offers very few, “if any,” programs focused on the historic discrimination against religious minorities in the Middle East, and lacks balance, focusing on the “positive aspects of Islam” while having an “absolute absence” of a similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity and Judaism.
The U.S. Department of Education says that Duke and UNC are misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities,” and is ordering the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMES) to revise its joint program by September 22 or risk losing federal funding, according to a report by the Associated Press.
“The Duke-UNC CMES appears to lack balance as it offers very few, if any, programs focused on the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yadizis, Kurds, Druze, and others,” states the Department of Education in an August 29 letter.
“Also,” added the letter, “there is a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”
The Trump administration says that the “lack of balance of perspectives is troubling and strongly suggests that Duke-UNC CMES is not meeting legal requirement” that mandates National Resource Centers to provide “a full understanding of the areas, regions, or countries.”
In June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered an investigation into the Middle East program after Rep. George Holding (R-NC) noted that it hosted a tax-payer funded conference with “severe anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
The report added that the investigation is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to root out antisemitism on U.S. university campuses, and that investigators concluded the program had intended to use funds on offerings that are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support,” adding that foreign language and national security “have taken a back seat to other priorities.”
Anti-Israel and antisemitic movements have, in fact, been an issue popping up on U.S. college campuses via tactics such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which is designed to ultimately destroy the world’s only Jewish state.
The BDS movement — supported by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — has manifested itself on college campuses across the country, in an effort to delegitimize Israel in the minds of students, galvanizing them to march in lockstep with the anti-Semitic campaign.
Henry Reichman, the chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, reacted to the Education Department’s letter by referring to it as, ironically, “political correctness” enacted by the “right-wing.”
“Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?” asked Reichman. “The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.”
UNC professor Jay Smith reacted by stating that the Department of Education’s letter is “ideologically driven harassment,” and that the official who signed the letter “should stay in his lane and allow the experts to determine what constitutes a ‘full understanding’ of the Middle East.”
The Education Department maintains, however, that the Duke-UNC CMES may still offer programs in, for example, “Iranian art and film,” but that such programs should not be funded or subsidized with taxpayer money, as CMES has not clearly demonstrated how these programs are secondary to more rigorous and relevant coursework.
The department also cited examples of reading materials such as Amihri Hatun: Performance, Gender-Bending and Subversion in the Early Modern Ottoman Intellectual History and Radical Love: Teachings from Islamic Mystical Tradition, noting that their relevance to Title VI is “patently unclear.”
“The Consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program,” said a UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson to Breitbart News.
“In keeping with the spirit of this partnership,” added the spokesperson, “the Consortium is committed to working with the Department to provide more information about its programs.”
Duke University did not respond to Breitbart News’ request for comment.
You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.
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