UNC denies bias in response to US Dept. of Education

Betsy DeVos - Duke - UNC - Middle Eastern Studies Consortium - Title VI
FILE - In this April 10, 2019 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee at a hearing on 'Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education' on Capitol Hill in Washington. The U.S. Department of Education will investigate a Middle East studies conference held by the University of North Carolina and partially funded by federal grant money, after a legislator says reports of anti-Semitic rhetoric emerged. News outlets report the conference, “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities,” was co-sponsored by Duke University and UNC. DeVos said the department would investigate whether the event complied with requirements. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

CHAPEL HILL — A letter from the U.S. Dept. of Education to the Terry Magnuson, Ph.D., the Vice Chancellor for Research at UNC-Chapel Hill raises questions that activities undertaken by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMES) are not qualified under Title VI.

“It appears from your APRs that the Duke-UNC CMES offers very little serious instruction preparing individuals to understand the geopolitical challenges to U.S. national security and economic needs but quite a considerable emphasis on advancing ideological priorities,” wrote Assistant Secretary of Education Robert King.

Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 gives Congress the power to authorize undergraduate and graduate grants for schools with International Education programs, including language studies and international business, and public policy.

The letter states that the Duke-UNC CMES has failed to separate activities “lawfully funded” under Title VI from ones that aren’t, and those activities are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support.”

The letter is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Dept. of Education that began in June into the Duke-UNC CMES’ Conference on Gaza after receiving a letter from North Carolina Congressman George Holding.

Holding’s April 15 letter questioned the conference’s bias against Israel, pro-BDS themes and the use of $235,000 in taxpayer funds after filmmaker Ami Horowitz’s video of conference attendees remarks and a rap song performed went viral. The rap performance was the “main entertainment” and as the crowd signs “I’m in love with a Jew,” the rapper tells them that they “look beautifully antisemitic.”

“The Department of Education’s findings paint a deeply troubling picture. The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies’ use of federal taxpayer funds to promote a biased, ideologically driven agenda is irresponsible and immoral,” said Rep. Holding in a press statement.

“I appreciate the Department of Education’s diligence in examining this matter and am thankful they are taking the necessary steps to ensure taxpayer dollars are used appropriately and responsibly in the future,” said Holding.

Assistant Secretary King’s letter also says that the Duke-UNC program “appears to lack balance” of religious minorities in the Middle East and that the activities for K-12 students and teachers have a “considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam,” and an “absolute absence” of positive aspects for any other belief system.

“Many of topics and titles listed under the area studies section of your prior APRs have little or no relevance to Title VI,” King wrote.

King also wrote that teacher-training activities put on by the Duke-UNC CMES “lack lawful focus on language development and instead advance narrow, particularized views of American social issues.”

In addition, King’s letter charges that the Duke-UNC CMES studies in foreign language instruction and advancing the security and economic stability of the United States are out of alignment with Title VI and have taken “a back seat” to other priorities.

In order to receive future Title VI funding, the letter directs the Duke-UNC CMES to develop and implement “effective institutional controls” to safeguard future Title VI grants and provide a revised list of upcoming activities. Each of those activities must include descriptions of how it promotes “foreign language learning and advances the national security interests and economic stability of the United States.”

Other requirements placed on the Duke-UNC CMES include prioritization of foreign language instruction as required by law, providing the U.S. Dept. of Education with a full list of courses in Middle East studies, and including “academic rank and employment status” of each instructor involved.

UNC-Chapel Hill denied the allegations in a response letter sent Friday, Sep. 20, according to the Associated Press. In the response, Vice Chancellor Magnuson defends the Duke-UNC CMES program, stating that it has been a leader in Middle Eastern language studies for years and does offer instruction on national security and economic issues.

Magnuson also said the consortium has hosted events on the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East, citing a visit to a Jewish center and presentations on Christianity in Lebanon.

About A.P. Dillon 244 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_