February 3, 2004

U.S. government attacks academic freedom with Title VI requirements

Juliana Wu's November 14 article, "Bill May Affect Curriculum," addresses worrisome aspects of the International Studies in Higher Education Act, recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives (as H.R. 3077). Because it also reauthorizes funding for international studies programs under the provision known as Title VI, it's important to separate the bill as a whole from the troubling rider added at the urging of conservatives: Paragraph 633, which sets up an "advisory board" to oversee these programs and ascertain whether they're fulfilling the Title VI mandate to train graduates for careers in national service. The advisory board's job is to monitor programs to ensure that they are meeting the national needs of staffing in the areas of homeland security and international business, and that they "reflect diverse perspectives and represent the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs." What are these "diverse perspectives" and this "full range of views?" Michelle Goldberg spelled it out on Salon.com: "The board will evaluate whether supporters of American foreign policy are adequately represented in university programs."

The advisory board would not intervene in day-to-day affairs of university departments. It would, however, have the power to recommend that Congress pull funding from centers that employ outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy, don't send enough graduates into the CIA or the State Department, or emphasize the study of culture and history over the study of languages and current events. It could potentially create a chilling effect on hiring, promotion, curricular choice, and public activities. Moreover, the Bush administration has manipulated advisory boards to distort and quash scientific inquiry. A recent study commissioned by the minority members of the House Committee on Government Reform reports that the administration routinely stacks advisory committees with unqualified persons with industry ties and/or ideological agendas, and opposes qualified experts, in order to produce results congenial to administration policies.

Rather than pointing fingers at academic programs for discouraging graduates from entering government service, the administration and its congressional allies might look closer to home. Numerous government scientists have resigned in protest or quietly leaked complaints about politicized interference. The Bush administration has pressured CIA analysts to provide convenient data. It has vindictively targeted the family of a career diplomat (remember Joseph Wilson?) who blew the whistle on administration lies about the purported sale of uranium to Saddam Hussein. Ideological motivation is not unique to this administration (which is why everyone should be concerned with this bill), but this administration does provide some stunning examples of the distortion and silencing of the testimony of trained experts at the expense of political agendas. H.R. 3077's advisory board provision is a cynical attack on academic freedom in the cloak of intellectual diversity. Its driving force comes, in fact, from the opponents of open inquiry and free, informed discourse. In the months immediately following September 11, a group known as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, and Senator Joe Lieberman, produced a blacklist of students, faculty and invited speakers at American colleges and universities who manifested insufficient patriotism in their public statements. When the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor began holding hearings on intellectual diversity on American campuses, a representative of the ACTA was the first person they turned to. When the Senate takes up this bill next year, we should urge senators to see past the cynical language of diversity to what constitutes a real attack on academic freedom.