Naeem — Congress Moves to Regulate Postcolonial Studies

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From Michael Bednar
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin
Congress Moves to Regulate Postcolonial Studies
Oct. 20, 2003
As many of you who know me well will soon realize, I have become a
political activist for the first time in my life. I am not here to rant,
but to inform you on current legislation that is being debated in the
House of Representatives. The legislation in question, H.R. 3077, will
rewrite the Title VI legislation that has provided FLAS money to many of
us and that also funds the various area-studies centers in our
universities. In particular, the legislation proposes the creation of an
“advisory board” that may severely impact universities by dictating the
curricula taught, course materials assigned in class, and the faculty who
are hired in institutions that accept Title VI funding. It gets worse. The
U.S. House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Select Education Hearing on
“International Programs in Higher Education and Questions about Bias” on
June 19, 2003
begins with an opening statement by Representative Phil Gringrey that
includes the following passage: “we are here today to learn more about a
number of programs that are authorized and funded under Title VI, which
are some of the oldest programs of support to higher education. These
programs reflect the priority placed by the federal government on
diplomacy, national security, and trade competitiveness. International
studies and education have become an increasingly important and relevant
topic of conversation and consideration in higher education…
However, with mounting global tensions, some programs under the Higher
Education Act that support foreign language and area studies centers have
recently attracted national attention and concern due to the perception of
their teachings and policies.” Testimony provided by Dr. Stanley Kurtz
(available from the link above) portrays areas studies centers as hotbeds
of unpatriotic anti-Americanism. Dr. Kurtz focuses, in particular, on
post-colonial theory and the work of Edward Said’s Orientalism in which
“Said equated professors who support American foreign policy with the 19th
century European intellectuals who propped up racist colonial empires. The
core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar
to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of
American power.” (quoted from Kurtz’s statement found at
Kurtz asserts that the rampant presence of post-colonial theory in
academic circles, with its bias against America and the West, has produced
a corps of professors who refuse to instruct or support (with FLAS grants)
students interested in pursuing careers in the foreign service and/or
intelligence agencies. Kurtz comments that: “We know that transmissions
from the September 11 highjackers [sic] went untranslated for want of
Arabic speakers in our intelligence agencies. Given that, and given the
ongoing lack of foreign language expertise in our defense and intelligence
agencies, the directors of the Title VI African studies centers who voted
unanimously, just after September 11, to reaffirm their boycott of the
NSEP [National Security Education Program], have all acted to undermine
America’s national security, and its foreign policy. And so has every
other Title VI-funded scholar in Latin American-, African-, and Middle
Eastern Studies who has upheld the long-standing boycott of the NSEP.” The
answer, Kurtz proposes, is to create an oversight board that will link
Title VI funding to students training for careers in national security,
defense and intelligence agencies, and the Foreign Service. How effective
was Dr. Kurtz’s presentation? The committee not only believed everything
Dr.Kurtz claimed, they even implemented most of his suggestions, including
the “advisory board.” An amended House Resolution, H.R. 3077, proposes to
create an International Education Advisory Board, with appointed members
from homeland security, the Department of Defense, and the National
Security Agency, “to increase accountability by providing advice, counsel,
and recommendations to Congress on international education issues for
higher education.” (Quoted from the Sept. 19, 2003 press release of
Congressman John Boehner, committee
The full resolution of H.R. 3077 can be found at
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.3077: H.R. 3077 was amended
in subcommittee and this amended resolution elaborates on the composition
and role of the International Education Advisory Board (see especially
pages 16-24). The amended H.R. 3077 can be found at:
http://edworkforce.house.gov/markups/108th/sed/hr3077/917main.htm . Click
on the link that says “Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute” which will
download an Adobe Acrobat pdf file. This amended H.R. 3077 has been sent
to the full committee, which met on Thursday, September 25 at 11:00 AM to
discuss the resolution before sending it to the House of Representatives.
Just in case you think that I have lost my marbles or that I am
over-reacting, the Higher Education and National Affairs newsletter,
published by the American Council on Education, and available
athttp://www.acenet.edu/hena/ includes the following comments on H.R. 3077
(page 1, continued on page 4): “House Republicans intend for H.R. 3077 to
build on existing international and foreign language studies Title VI
programs, adding what many in the higher education community believe is
unnecessary federal oversight through a new International Education
Advisory Board.” Federal international education programs were the focus
of a House subcommittee hearing in June, during which one witness
testified to a strong “anti-American” bias in many college and university
international departments which he claimed could possibly undermine
American foreign policy. ACE presented opposing testimony (see
http://www.acenet.edu/washington/international/Hartle.Testimony.pdf . As a
subcommittee press release asserted, this advisory body would be created
in consultation with homeland security agencies in order to “increase
accountability by providing advice, counsel, and recommendations to
Congress on international education issues for higher education.” Higher
education leaders oppose this board on the grounds that the powers it is
granted are so broad that they put institutions in danger of losing
control over their own curricula, hiring practices, and other aspects of
their international programs.” In short, it seems that the House of
Representatives is about to regulate the courses and content that we, as
future professors, will teach in colleges and universities. The
possibility that someone in homeland security will instruct college
professors (with Ph.D.s) on the proper, patriotic, “American-friendly”
textbooks that may be used in class scares and outrages me. This morning,
this was news to me. If this is new to you and if you feel as equally
scared and angered that the government may censure your future academic
career, then I urge you to: 1) distribute this message to other professors
and students in area studies; and 2) write a handwritten letter (in ink)
to your local congressmen and to John A. Boehner, Chairman of the Full
Committee on Education and the Workforce at the following address: John A.
Boehner 1011 Longworth H.O.B. Washington, DC 20515 Please refrain from
emails and typewritten or computer printouts as these are often ignored in
Congress as being mass-produced by special-interest groups. Write in ink,
in legible penmanship, and let your voice be heard.
Michael Bednar
Department of History
The University of Texas at Austin