House Approves Bill on International Studies That Worries Some Academics

By STEPHEN BURD
The Chronicle of Higher Education
October 23, 2003

Washington--The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday that would give the federal government greater oversight of federally financed international-studies programs at American colleges.

The House also passed legislation that would renew several programs that provide aid to graduate students.

The two bills are among four that the House has passed as it works to extend the Higher Education Act, the law that governs most federal student-aid programs. In July, the House passed two bills (HR 2211 and HR 438) that would create stricter accountability requirements for teacher-education programs and increase student-loan forgiveness for some schoolteachers (The Chronicle, July 10). The Senate is not expected to consider legislation renewing the act until after Congress returns next year from its winter recess.

The international-studies bill (HR 3077) would create a new advisory board that would monitor foreign-language and area-studies programs, which are supported under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Lawmakers included the monitoring provision in the bill after hearing complaints from traditional scholars that some of the area-studies centers supported by those programs have an "anti-American" bias.

College leaders and lobbyists, however, have said that the complaints of bias were inaccurate and that the new board would be used to interfere with curricular decisions on their campuses.

Republican lawmakers in charge of writing higher-education legislation tried to alleviate those concerns by adding to the bill language that would bar the advisory board from "mandating, directing, or controlling" the curriculums of such college programs.

"This board is advisory in nature and will not be responsible for dictating curriculum or administrating the programs," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who heads the House subcommittee that drafted the bill, said during Tuesday's debate on the bill on the House floor.

Still, one lawmaker -- Rep. Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat -- said that he hoped that the advisory board would "redress ... the lack of balance" that "pervades Title VI-funded Middle East studies programs."

"It is troubling when evidence suggests that many of the Middle East regional-studies grantees are committed to a narrow point of view at odds with our national interest," Mr. Berman continued, "a point of view that questions the validity of advancing American ideals of democracy and the rule of law around the world, and in the Middle East in particular."

But other Democratic lawmakers said that even greater protections were needed in the bill to ensure that the advisory board would not be used to intimidate scholars to toe an ideological line.

Rep. Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, the top Democrat on a House subcommittee that is in charge of renewing the higher-education legislation, said that he hoped to find ways "to refine the purpose and scope of the board's responsibilities" before the bill becomes law.

The graduate-education bill (HR 3076) would, among other things, direct the secretary of education to make it a priority to award fellowships through the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Program to colleges that prepare mathematics, science, and special-education teachers, and to those that prepare teachers to work with students with limited English proficiency. Colleges that receive funds from the program provide fellowships to students in fields that the secretary deems critical to the nation.