ACLU Letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Expressing Academic Freedom Concerns re: H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003

Document Date: February 13, 2004

The Honorable Judd Gregg
Chairman, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
Ranking Member, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Re: H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003

Dear Chairman Gregg and Ranking Member Kennedy:

We are writing to express our concerns about H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003. While we certainly endorse continuation of funding for international education programs, the addition of the International Higher Education Advisory Board represents a serious threat to academic freedom in higher education. Provisions about recruiter access to students and student recruiting information raises additional concerns.

Academic freedom and responsibility are the liberty and obligation to study, to investigate, to present and interpret, and to discuss facts and ideas in all branches and fields of learning. No limitations are implied, other than those required by generally accepted standards of responsible scholarship. Free and open inquiry and unhindered circulation of ideas are fundamental aspects of academic freedom. The right to conduct such inquiry is implicit in the freedoms of thought, speech and publication safeguarded by the First Amendment, however unsettling the outcome of such inquiry may be to accepted beliefs or opinions. Inherent in the notion of academic freedom is that the government should not be in the business of controlling academic inquiry.

Section 6 of H.R. 3077 establishes an International Higher Education Advisory Board, which “”shall provide advice, counsel and recommendations to the Secretary and the Congress on international education issues for higher education.”” While there is nothing inherently wrong about an advisory board, the clear intent of this advisory board is to provide a “”litmus test”” of programs that teach the accepted government dogma.

While H.R. 3077 specifically states that the Advisory Board is not authorized to “”mandate, direct, or control an institution of higher education’s specific instructional content, curriculum, or program of instruction,”” the Board nonetheless advises the Secretary and Congress about programs to assure that their activities “”reflect diverse perspectives and the full range of views on world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs.”” The Secretary, in awarding grants under Title VI, must do so, taking into account “”the degree to which activities of centers, programs, and fellowships at institutions of higher education advance national interests, generate and disseminate information, and foster debate on American foreign policy from diverse perspectives.”” Thus, while the Board supposedly has no direct control over curriculum, it certainly has some indirect control, as it can advise the Secretary about any programs that it believes insufficiently “”advance the national interests,”” and those views will be taken into account when the Secretary awards grants under Title VI.

While the language appears benign, the legislative hearings expressed intent to impose control on the positions taken by faculty. Stanley Kurtz, one of the proponents of this advisory board, railed against the supposed “”bias”” in Middle Eastern studies, and argued for more professors who “”support American foreign policy.””[1] According to Kurtz, Middle Eastern studies programs are rife with anti-American professors. Kurtz and his like-minded colleagues Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes have long been preaching about this alleged bias. Daniel Pipes even went so far as to start a web site called Campus Watch to compile dossiers on professors who were allegedly anti-American.[2] Knowing that calling for the firing of the individuals with whom they disagree would certainly be viewed as “”censorship,”” Kurtz and his colleagues instead argue that more people that “”think like them”” should be hired as professors. Thus, instead of controlling the curriculum directly, they will just “”pack”” the faculty, using Title VI funds as both the carrot and stick. The ACLU supports the right of free speech. Certainly Kurtz, Pipes and Kramer are entitled to their opinion, and are free to speak about it. That is an entirely different matter, however, than enlisting the aid of the government in enforcing their view of the world on academia.

The criticism of international studies programs is largely a “”triumph of ideology over analysis.””[3] Terry W. Hartle, the Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs for the American Council on Education in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on Select Education on June 19, 2003, pointed out that most of the criticism of Title VI is leveled at Middle East studies, a relatively small part of Title VI programs. Essentially, critics are seeking to impose control over academic pursuits that are far broader than the focus of their criticism.[4]

Finally, the criticisms of the Middle East Centers are based on a small number of anecdotes, and the retelling of the anecdotes often leaves out important facts. For example, Stanley Kurtz repeatedly referred to a “”Title VI workshop for K-12 teachers that assigned readings from only the most virulent critics of American foreign policy.”” The workshop in question was held at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “”At the request of the school district, the session was designed to explore the question ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ Not surprisingly, some of the background readings for such a session will be rather hostile to the United States because the topic asks participants to examine the views of those who hold views we find reprehensible as a way of understanding them. Does it mean the professors are anti-American or hostile to American foreign policy? Of course not. Would these readings have been assigned if a different topic had been chosen? No.””[5]

Contrary to Stanley Kurtz’s assertions, “”Title VI centers have played a central role in developing public understanding of economic, defense and foreign policy issues; in preparing diplomats and other experts in foreign affairs; and in providing critical analysis for national decision-making.””[6] Thus, there is little need for an Advisory Board, particularly one that could have such an important impact on academic freedom.

Section 7 of the bill requires that grant recipients provide recruiters of the U.S. government and its agencies the same access to students as any other prospective employer. This provision should be amended to allow a grant recipient to bar agencies that engage in discrimination, particularly where allowing that agency to recruit on campus would place the university in violation of state or local law or its own policies. Many state and local governments have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations, including universities. Many universities comply with those state and local laws by prohibiting from campus any job recruiter or any curriculum that denies students employment or educational opportunities based on sexual orientation. Other universities have imposed similar policies as a way to ensure that their students can learn best on a campus that is free of discrimination. As a result, some schools banned military recruiters and ROTC programs on campus until they treat all students equally. By amending this provision, it would make the bill consistent with long-standing federal practice of not preempting stronger civil rights protections provided by state or local laws or by individual universities.

We urge you to remove provisions from the bill relating to the Advisory Board and amend Section 7 before its final passage.


Laura W. Murphy

Marvin J. Johnson
Legislative Counsel

[1] Statement of Stanley Kurtz, before the Subcommittee on Select Education, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, June 19, 2003, available at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/108th/sed/titlevi61903/wl61903.htm

[2] The dossiers have since been removed after furor erupted and numerous academics suggested that their own names be added to the “”list.”” As of the writing of this letter, Campus Watch still asks for students to report their professors, although it states reports need not be negative. See http://www.campus-watch.org/incident.php Campus Watch does maintain a list of “”recommended”” professors.

[3] Testimony of Terry W. Hartle, Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, American Council on Education, before the Subcommittee on Select Education, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, June 19, 2003, available at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings/108th/sed/titlevi61903/wl61903.htm

[4] In 2002, there were 118 National Resource Centers and 15 were focused on the Middle East. The Middle East Centers consumed approximately $4 million, out of the $86.2 million provided for the Title VI programs. Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. Mr. Hartle goes into much greater detail in his testimony.

Related Issues

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.