Are Middle East Scholars Funded by the Taxpayer Doing the Country Much Good?





Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org.

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The U.S. Congress recently broke with a 45-year tradition: It permitted a dissident to critique the federal funding for the study of foreign language and cultures -- to suggest that the program often serves the very opposite of academia's goals or the nation's interests.

The topic impinges on core questions of how Americans see the outside world and themselves. It also has major implications for U.S. policy.

Federal funding of international studies (known in govermentese as "Title VI fellowships") is relatively new, going back to 1959, when Cold War tensions prompted a sense of American vulnerability. The goal was to supply knowledgeable specialists to government, business, industry and education. (Full disclosure: I received a Title VI fellowship in the mid ‘70s.)

The $86.2 million a year spent on Title VI programs makes up just 0.0005 percent of the federal budget, but it funds 118 "national resource centers" and provides an endorsement of them that encourages other donors. Universities quickly came to depend on this subsidy of their graduate students and area studies centers.

That's why the hearing of the House Subcommittee on Select Education on "International Programs in Higher Education and Questions of Bias" was so potentially significant: It challenges that funding.

The event showcased Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, who explained the problems at Title VI centers. Himself an anthropologist of South Asia, Kurtz since 9/11 has developed a systematic critique of Middle East studies.

His testimony argued that this field is dominated by an approach called post-colonial theory. Developed primarily by Edward Said of Columbia University, it holds, in Kurtz's words, that "it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power." The predominance of post-colonial theory had two major consequences:

Exclusion of pro-American voices: Kurtz gave several examples, such as the Web site of New York University's Middle East center: Every one of its commentaries on 9/11 and the Iraq war that takes a political stand, he found, "sharply criticizes American policy."

"Condemnation of scholars who cooperate with the American government": For example, the Middle East Studies Association boycotted the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a Pentagon-funded effort to develop a cadre of professionals to help the U.S. government "make sound decisions" on national security issues. In other words, Title VI funding at times reduces the expertise available to the government.

To counter this pattern of bias and alienation, Kurtz proposes three steps for Congress.

  1. Create a supervisory board, made up of executive branch representatives and other appointees, to manage Title VI spending, as is now the case with other federally funded educational programs.
  2. Amend the Higher Education Act to deny Title VI funding to any university or center that boycotts the NSEP.
  3. Reduce allocations for Title VI to register displeasure with the bias of area studies. Start by rescinding the $20 million added to Title VI after 9/11 and direct it instead to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., to train students intending careers in the defense and intelligence agencies.

Confronted by this powerful critique, the education establishment's lobbyist at the hearing, Terry Hartle, was reduced to posturing about the supposed patriotism of his constituents. He also dismissed Kurtz's case as anecdotal and claimed historians and political scientists "rarely find" post-colonial theory useful. The fellow even pretended (and this falsehood must have rankled) that Edward Said's work "reached its apex of popularity more than a decade ago and has been waning ever since."

Hardly! search engine of syllabi finds Said to be one of the very most-taught authors in the field. He is, as Martin Kramer points out, "one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation."

Hartle is wrong and Kurtz is right. Indeed, Kurtz understates the problem, for anti-Americanism among Middle East specialists has other sources besides post-colonial theory, such as fury at strong U.S.-Israel relations or sympathy for the Iranian regime.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) chairs the House Subcommittee on Select Education. Taxpayers have no better way to challenge the failure of Middle East studies than by writing him at: tellhoek@mail.house.gov.



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M.R. Khan - 7/14/2003

As an American scholar working on the Middle East and very aware of Daniel Pipes militant Likudnik agenda I would like to know what your definition of "anti-Americanism" is. It is the height of chutzpah for an Israeli Likud ideologue like Martin Kramer to sit before Congress and call for the censoring of American scholars who have the temerity to criticise the extremist policies of a foreign state and its ethno-sectarian domestic lobby here. True American partriotism means that our foreign policy should not be a tool for special interest groups promoting their wounded ultra-nationalism and settler colonialism abroad. These are incongruous with American ideals and have been very systematically promoted by AIPAC and the Southern Evangelical Armageddon lobby to promote racially and religiously charged "clashes of civilization" between China and the Islamic world and our own very diverse Republic. It behoves American scholars who dont subscribe to messianic Zionism or Evangelical Armageddon cults to point out that this is not in our national interest and that foreign ideologues like Kramer and their local accolytes like Pipes and Kurtz must not be allowed to censor our academic institutions.


Josh Greenland - 7/12/2003

"Mr. Greenland is either supremely disingenuous about, or more likely ignorant of, the true state of affairs in ME/Islamic studies in this country."

I'm ignorant of the true state of affairs in Middle East and Islamic studies here in the US. But I found your post, purporting to be nothing more than one man's opinion based on his experiences, much more convincing than Pipes' or Kurtz' partisan hackwork. I don't see you trying to make deceptive leaps of logic, unsupported assertions, presenting irrelevant information or pretending anecdotal evidence is sufficient grounds for changing public policy.

But I don't know what you mean by anti-Americanism.

"Plus, the bottom line is that many (if not most) thesis and dissertation topics these days (and paper panels at MESA and other such venues) are on arcane subjects such as Ottoman eunuchs. Why in Hades should taxpayer fund such irrelevant, Saidian claptrap? Pipes is exactly right."

I don't see what's "Saidian" about arcane subjects, but I don't see a problem with generally funding studies of foreign languages and cultures. That apparently is what Title VI was originally intended to do. I think that if we restricted this funding to what is immediately useful, we increase American cultural isolation and make it likely that this country will develop an ingrown "little England" mentality to a greater degree than that already exists here.

Plus, one never knows when a seemingly arcane area of study might become useful.


Tim Furnish - 7/11/2003

Mr. Greenland is either supremely disingenuous about, or more likely ignorant of, the true state of affairs in ME/Islamic studies in this country. I had Title VI funding for four years and two summers during my doctoral work at Ohio State and I can attest that the level of anti-Americanism among the grad students and faculty in my area of study (Islamic history) is nothing short of breath-taking. And indeed my dissertation advisor scoffed at the NSEP program, telling me it was ridiculous that the gov't actually wanted some commitment out of those it funded. Plus, the bottom line is that many (if not most) thesis and dissertation topics these days (and paper panels at MESA and other such venues) are on arcane subjects such as Ottoman eunuchs. Why in Hades should taxpayer fund such irrelevant, Saidian claptrap? Pipes is exactly right.


Josh Greenland - 7/11/2003

I'm disputing selected quotes from Daniel Pipes' article:

Daniel Pipes (DP):
[Stanley Kurtz'] testimony argued that this field is dominated by an approach called post-colonial theory. Developed primarily by Edward Said of Columbia University, it holds, in Kurtz's words, that "it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power." The predominance of post-colonial theory had two major consequences:

Exclusion of pro-American voices: Kurtz gave several examples, such as the Web site of New York University's Middle East center: Every one of its commentaries on 9/11 and the Iraq war that takes a political stand, he found, "sharply criticizes American policy."

Me:
How exactly does the unanimity of one university's Middle East Center website commentators prove that there is an "exclusion of pro-American [sic!] voices"?

DP:
"Condemnation of scholars who cooperate with the American government": For example, the Middle East Studies Association boycotted the National Security Education Program (NSEP), a Pentagon-funded effort to develop a cadre of professionals to help the U.S. government "make sound decisions" on national security issues.

Me:
How does opposition to the NSEP translate to "condemnation of scholars"? Pipes doesn't bother to explain this.

DP:
In other words, Title VI funding at times reduces the expertise available to the government.

Me:
This isn't the same as saying the government is suffering of a lack of expertise. And it doesn't follow that Title VI funding is reducing government-available expertise. Pipes makes a logical leap here.

DP:
Confronted by this powerful critique, the education establishment's lobbyist at the hearing, Terry Hartle, was reduced to posturing about the supposed patriotism of his constituents. He also dismissed Kurtz's case as anecdotal and claimed historians and political scientists "rarely find" post-colonial theory useful.

Me:
The few examples that Pipes provides look anecdotal to me. And with their disagreement over the usefulness of post-colonial theory, it's Kurtz' word against Hartle's. Pipes doesn't bother to tell us what "education establishment" organization Hartle is a lobbyist for, but I would trust a lobbyist for the "education establishment" on education issues before I would a National Review writer and Hoover Institute habitue.

DP:
The fellow even pretended (and this falsehood must have rankled) that Edward Said's work "reached its apex of popularity more than a decade ago and has been waning ever since.

Hardly! search engine of syllabi finds Said to be one of the very most-taught authors in the field.

Me:
Speaking of anecdotal, how scientific or comprehensive is a search engine survey of online syllabi? And to pick a nit, Said's popularity could be on a 10 year wane even if he is the most taught author in the field. Pipes thinks it's cool to call someone a liar on the basis of this??

DP:
He is, as Martin Kramer points out, "one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation.

Me:
Said and Chomsky are political popular among students. So what? This just shows who student associations like to host at paid talks, and is academically meaningless. In fact, Noam Chomsky is speaking outside his field when he gives one of his political speeches. Why even mention him?

DP:
Hartle is wrong and Kurtz is right.

Me:
It comes down to Pipes making an assertion. He's proven nothing.

DP:
Indeed, Kurtz understates the problem, for anti-Americanism among Middle East specialists has other sources besides post-colonial theory, such as fury at strong U.S.-Israel relations or sympathy for the Iranian regime.

Me:
"Sympathy for the Iranian regime" among academics specializing in the Middle East??? That sounds like total baloney to me. Another unsupported assertion we are supposed to just go along with because he rushes it past us with all the other questionable statements.

Pipes must have gotten where he is through his connections with his daddy, not through competence. He seems unable write a standard essay with supporting arguments. I don't know where he graduated from, and I'm sure he has at least one post-graduate degree from somewhere, but I can't believe some instructor along the way didn't completely red-pencil his writing.


Josh Greenland - 7/11/2003

From what I gather, this attempt to intimidate universities into hiring according to politics, ostensibly so that there'll be sufficient conservative academics for US intelligence agencies, is not broad based but is being pushed by a few conservative commentators (Daniel Pipes, Stanley Kurtz, Martin Kramer), and I'm sure by conservative congressional Republicans.

It seems that Pipes has taken almost all of his article and his lead from Stanley Kurtz, a columnist for National Review and a research fellow at the Hoover Institute. Here's an article that lays out the case for what these people are trying to accomplish, more logically and articulately than Pipes' article does:

http://www.nationalreview.com/kurtz/kurtz061603.asp

Kurtz and Pipes are upset that various academic National Resource Centers want nothing to do with US intelligence agencies. I wonder if this is because academics who are interested in studying the cultures and histories of many of the world's countries knowledgably conclude that US intelligence policy toward their countries of interest is evil and wrong. Perhaps most people would think so if they were as well-informed as the academics that Kurtz/Pipes/Kramer object to?

Some have written on HNN that there is political discrimination in academia. I can believe that, but I don't think harassment and threats from Congress are the way to address it. The way I read it (more clearly from Kurtz' article than from Pipes'), these guys want to curb academic freedom, cause deans and provosts to act overtly in a discriminatory manner in faculty hiring, and intimidate academic organizations that don't like US policy. The 1959 law was intended to help provide the US as a whole with academic foreign expertise, not just the intelligence agencies, so this campaign is grossly inappropriate.


Josh Greenland - 7/10/2003

"Dr. Dresner may deplore " professional patriots " but it is rather important that future foreign service officers, CIA and DIA personnel get a somewhat broader perspective on history, language and culture of the Mideast than what is obtainable from their department's Edward Said clone."

Oh yeah, that's why one of the CIA's favorite recruiting grounds is Bob Jones University.


J. Moore - 7/9/2003

The metaphor of the ayatollahs is most apt. This is clearly a case of reactionaries like Pipes wailing about any views that oppose their narrow and ultra-conservative ones, and desiring, basically, to shut them up. (Witness, for example the Pipes/Kramer attempt to create a network of informers from college students and post a blacklist of professors guilty of "wrong-thinking.")

From now on, I think he should sign his rantings Ayatollah Pipes. And if he gets a coveted posting with the Bush administration, he may become Grand Ayatollah for Right Thinking. I always thought academic freedom, free speech, and the Bill of Rights actually *meant* something. I cherish free expression and open academic inquiry and hold with deep suspicion people who work in the opposite directions.


mark safranski - 7/9/2003

I didn't say this was an ideal solution just an inevitable one. Non-radical taxpayers and legislators are going to start wondering why they should be funding institutions that seem completely closed to mainstream moderate and conservative opinion or even moderately liberal opinion that dissents on certain hot-button issues like diversity hiring.

The ideal solution would be for academics to exercise some self-restraint and hire candidates even if it means possibly tolerating voices in the department that could offer conflicting opinions. I don't think they will until their antics jeopardize their funding or alumni donations.


Ed Sackett - 7/9/2003

"If university administrators do not themselves act to limit the widespread partisanship of
the academic hiring process, it is inevitable that Congress and state legislatures
eventually will impose a solution of their own. "

Really? But how exactly will that work? Will outsiders tell academic departments who they can hire? Will non-specialists (spectacularly unqualified non-specialists if we're talking about politicians) have the authority to veto a hiring decision?

Sure, academics, especially in insubstantial disciplines like area studies and social science, can be exasperating as all hell. Master Pipes has breezily called for "adult supervision" of academe. Sounds good until you get down to details. Does any thinking person really want universities to be governed by ayatollahs? I use that word deliberately, to point out what the dictatorship of the orthodox really means.


armand de laurell - 7/8/2003

Mr. Pipes could [should] have done the readers of HNN a great service by simply stating that he is either 1. an m.e. scholar that for some unknown reason is not getting paid for his scholarly work or that; 2.given the fact others are getting paid for their socalled scholarly work so should he.

The question that comes to mind is why do the articles written by Mr. Pipes first have to appear in the New York Post and then in HNN? Is that modus operandi applicable to others that have regularly written for the New York Post?


mark safranski - 7/8/2003

Part of the problem stems from the trend in the field of linguistics to teach prospective Ph.d's " language " from a theoretical and neurological standpoint rather than teaching languages themselves. ( In some cases we are graduating monolingual Linguists). The era of the white haired linguistics prof who speaks forty languages, ten of them dead, is pretty much at an end.

Students who wish to actually learn foreign languages often are in other departments ( History, Area studies programs, Poli-Sci)which tend to hire partly on a political basis. Dr. Dresner may deplore " professional patriots " but it is rather important that future foreign service officers, CIA and DIA personnel get a somewhat broader perspective on history, language and culture of the Mideast than what is obtainable from their department's Edward Said clone.

Departments do not become politically skewed at most universities by accident ( or at least the odds of coincidence are stratospheric) and it seems self-evident that students would benefit intellectually from hearing a variety of challenging viewpoints. If university administrators do not themselves act to limit the widespread partisanship of the academic hiring process, it is inevitable that Congress and state legislatures eventually will impose a solution of their own.

http://www.zenpundit.blogspot.com


Jonathan Dresner - 7/8/2003

Clearly Congress must make some choices. Either it must fund academics who have the freedom to think clearly and speak from their expertise and experience, or it must fund policy hacks. Either an energetic and comptent scholarly community is a benefit to the nation or it is a pointless, even hazardous, waste of time and money. Either the "free market of ideas" functions or the government needs to limit speech and thought.

Pipes and I clearly come down on opposite sides of this matter. But then, I'm an academic and he's a professional patriot.


Richard Hodgman - 7/8/2003

Maybe the NSEP is a legitimate body to determine what is in the national interest, and maybe it isn't. If it is funded by the Pentagon I have a hunch it receives its impetus from the same people who were cheerleading us into a dubious war in Iraq on bogus rationales of national security (The Pentagon Office of Special Plans). Now if we are talking about the agenda of the Israel expansionists and apologists (including the Hoover Institute where Mr. Kurtz resides) I can see where Mr.Pipes has his blood pressure up over the positions of the likes of Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Said. It is really very clever of the neoconservative intellectuals who have hijacked our foreign policy to keep harping about U.S. security being locked up with that of Israel. If it weren't for this parasitic embrace there never would have been a 9/11 and the other terrorist attacks these pseudo-patriots like to blame on "failed Islamic regimes" and on terrrorists who "hate freedom". I'm not an academic but it sounds to me like we need to support Title VI, not scuttle it.


Wilson - 7/7/2003


I believe that Mr. Pipes is currently under consideration for a federal appointment. Is it an unpaid position, Mr. Pipes?

Pipes wrote:
----------------------------------------------------------Hardly! search engine of syllabi finds Said to be one of the very most-taught authors in the field. He is, as Martin Kramer points out, "one of only two academics today (the other is Noam Chomsky) who draws an overflow crowd on any campus he visits and who always gets a standing ovation."
-----------------------------------------------------------

Does anyone else detect a note of jealousy here?

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