- The Education Department has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake their Middle East studies program
- The Department concluded it was offering students a biased curriculum
- There were complaints that it did not present enough ‘positive’ imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region
- It is a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content
- The Education Department has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education
The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, arguing that they are misusing a federal grant to advance ‘ideological priorities’ and unfairly promote ‘the positive aspects of Islam’ but not Christianity or Judaism.
An August 29 letter from the U.S. Education Department orders the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings by September 22 or risk losing future funding from a federal grant that is awarded to dozens of universities to support foreign language instruction.
The consortium received $235,000 from the grant last year, according to Education Department data.
A statement from the UNC-Chapel Hill says the consortium ‘deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education’ and is ‘committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.’ Officials at Duke declined to comment.
The Education Department declined to say if it’s examining similar programs at other schools.
The Education Department has ordered Duke University, pictured, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake their Middle East studies program
The Middle East studies program is run jointly by the two schools including the University of North Carolina, pictured. It was felt by the Education Department that it was offering students a biased curriculum that did not present enough ‘positive’ imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region
Academic freedom advocates say the government could be setting a dangerous precedent if it injects politics into funding decisions. Some said they had never heard of the Education Department asserting control over such minute details of a program’s offerings.
‘Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?’ said Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors.
‘The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.’
More than a dozen universities receive National Re Center grants for their Middle East programs, including Columbia, Georgetown, Yale and the University of Texas. The Duke-UNC consortium was founded in 2005 and first received the grant nearly a decade ago.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered an investigation into the program in June after North Carolina Rep. George Holding, a Republican, complained that it hosted a taxpayer-funded conference with ‘severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.’ The conference, titled ‘Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,’ included a rapper who performed a ‘brazenly anti-Semitic song,’ Holding said in an April 15 letter .