The University of North Carolina (UNC) is disputing the Trump administration’s claim that its joint Middle Eastern studies program with Duke University 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.
UNC released a letter to the Education Department on Friday, stating that the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMES) contains relevant education material in compliance with Title VI, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.
The university had been responded to an August 29 letter from the Education Department, which informed both UNC and Duke University that the schools would risk losing federal funds if they did not revise their joint Middle Eastern studies program by September 22.
The department argued that the program focused heavily on the “positive aspects of Islam” while severely lacking education regarding the positive aspects of Christianity and Judaism, as well as offering very few, if any, programs focused on the historic discrimination against religious minorities in the Middle East.
The department added that the program’s offerings are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support,” as investigators looking into the matter had concluded that foreign language and national security “have taken a back seat to other priorities.”
According to the report, UNC’s vice chancellor for research Terry Magnuson says that the university started offering Arabic classes in 1959, adding that UNC now has the country’s highest enrollment in the Urdu language, as well as the eighth-highest enrollment in both the Arabic and Turkish languages.
Magnuson also claims that the program does provide sufficient education on national security, stating that UNC hosts several programs each year on such topics, some including featured speakers from the Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George Bush administrations.
In its letter, the Education Department had also noted a program focused on “Iranian art and film,” stating that CMES had not clearly demonstrated how such a program is secondary to more rigorous and relevant coursework.
In his rebuke, Magnuson also insisted that “Iranian art and film” does, in fact, improve language acquisition, as well as attract new students to the program.
With regards to the program lacking balance by not offering programs focused on the historic discrimination against religious minorities in the Middle East, Magnuson contested the claim, stating that CMES has held events regarding the persecution of Armenian Christians and other religious minorities.
Magnuson also said that the program “suffuses” with regards to the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism and other religions. The report added that Magnuson will be establishing an advisory board to address the matter at hand, and will keep records detailing the ways in which UNC’s expenses are applicable to the goal of the federal grant.