by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
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 it’s misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism.
An Aug. 29 letter from the U.S. Education Department orders the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings by Sept. 22 or risk losing future funding from a federal grant that’s 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. …
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 .
In a response , DeVos said she was “troubled” by Holding’s letter and would take a closer look at the consortium. …
Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC and vice president of its chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the letter amounts to “ideologically driven harassment.” He said the Education Department official who signed the letter, Robert King, “should stay in his lane and allow the experts to determine what constitutes a ‘full understanding’ of the Middle East.”
But Holding, the Republican who sparked the investigation, said it’s clear the consortium stepped outside the bounds of the grant. The Education Department has an obligation to ensure its funding is used as intended, he said, adding that other schools should make sure they’re following the rules.
“This has fallen through the cracks, and this could be going on at other educational institutions,” he said in an interview. “If the department’s providing the money and giving guidance on how the money is to be used, I think they can be as in the weeds as they need to be.”