Bill would scrutinize international studies

    Certain university professors may soon have to defend their curricula in front of a commission made up in part by CIA and other national security agents, if a bill authored by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) comes into effect.

    A provision in Hoekstra’s legislation, H.R. 3077, would require government-funded international language and area programs to show that they include “”diverse perspectives”” and a “”full range of views”” before an International Higher Education Advisory Board.

    “”We don’t have any objection to have somebody looking over our shoulder to make sure that there is a wide range of ideas taught. What concerns us are the details,”” said David Leonard, dean of International and Area Studies at UC Berkeley. “”It’s strange to call upon the CIA and other agencies to decide if a full range of views is being included. Their job is to present the public with views which are those of the current administration.””

    The bill applies to programs funded under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which includes UCSD’s Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies. With seven such centers at UC Berkeley, six at UCLA and many others, California has more government-funded sites than any other state, Leonard said.

    Hoekstra introduced the bill after witnesses testifying in Congress on June 19 criticized academia for undermining government policy ‹ specifically in the Middle East ‹ and national security.

    Professor Stanley Kurtz of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute led the charge, claiming that Title VI-funded programs “”tend to purvey extreme and one-sided criticisms of American foreign policy”” and use materials containing “”uniformity and extremist political bias.””

    Charles Briggs, director of the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, disagreed.

    “”The critics adopt a neo-conservative strategy of taking one example of scholarly research, oversimplifying its topics, erasing all of the studies that have critiqued and amended it, and then saying that this is how all scholars feel,”” Briggs said.

    Originally, Hoekstra’s proposal called for an advisory board to “”annually monitor, appraise and evaluate the activities”” of federal grant recipients, with the authority to produce “”an evaluation of the performance of grantees,”” a move Briggs said would “”limit all forms of scholarship at the university.””

    Academic groups attacked the plan, arguing that it allowed the government to dictate curricula at universities that received funding.

    The most recent version of the bill scaled back the board’s authority, limiting it to making recommendations and advising Congress and other government agencies. However, it also provided that two out of seven of the board’s members would come from national security agencies and that the board would be able to receive information from all government agencies, including those collecting secret information.

    “”After all, what’s being evaluated are the things that are being presented to the public,”” Leonard said. “”Why do you need to see someone’s intelligence file to see what they’re teaching in the class? All they have to do is look at the syllabus and ask the students.””

    Leonard and Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost and dean of UCLA’s International Institute, expressed their concerns in a joint article they submitted to the Los Angeles Times, in which they urged changes to minimize the prospects for “”witch hunts”” by the advisory board.

    Last month, the House of Representatives’ Education and Workforce Committee, which includes San Diego Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), unanimously passed Hoekstra’s bill, with the advisory board provision.

    “”Susan [Davis] didn’t support [the board], but she is comfortable with the fact that it’s merely an advisory committee and that it can’t dictate or control any of the curriculum,”” Davis’ press secretary Aaron Hunter said. “”She felt that the [House] committee weakened the language enough that it did not draw her opposition to the bill.””

    However, Briggs does not believe the changes made the proposal more palatable.

    “”It’s the logic of the argument that’s wrong. It’s an attempt to limit academic freedom,”” he said. “”They chill the climate for scholarship and inquiry in the university as a whole. When political appointees attempt to regulate the centers of scholarship, I would worry.””

    The legislation has been referred to the Senate, which Leonard hopes will make changes to the make up of the review commission to include members from other branches of the government.

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