Federal investigation finds UNC-Duke Middle East program 'lacks balance,' advances 'ideological priorities'

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The U.S. Department of Education is warning it will end federal funding to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies after a federal investigation concluded the program misused prior awards for unauthorized programming.

In a letter obtained by the ABC11 I-Team, Assistant Secretary of Education Robert King blasts the program for offering "very little serious instruction preparing individuals" to understand the geopolitics in the region and instead puts "quite a considerable emphasis on advancing ideological priorities."

Rep. George Holding (R-North Carolina) first called for the investigation in April after the Consortium used federal funds to host a conference on Gaza that led to accusations of anti-Semitism. The Duke-UNC Consortium hosted the "Conflict Over Gaza" in March at UNC-Chapel Hill, and it was an event sponsored by more than two dozen university departments, plus the Rotary Club of Raleigh and other local organizations.

"I hope we can all agree that it is irresponsible and immoral for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy under the guise of constructive academic discourse," Holding said in June.

King's letter, dated Aug. 29, was sent to top administration officials and board members of both universities. The letter does not mention the Gaza conference, but instead cites other scheduled programming and the broad use of what are called Title VI grants, which Congress can authorize "to protect the security, stability, and economic vitality of the United States by teaching American students the foreign languages and cultural competencies required to develop a pool of experts to meet our national needs."

According to DOE officials, as many as 6,791 students enrolled in the "taxpayer-funded" program, but "many of the topics and titles" have "little or no relevance" to Title IV. The letter also charges that the program "lacks balance."

"There is considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam," King writes, "while there is absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East."

Should the Duke-UNC Consortium wish to apply for Title VI grants again, King must produce "a revised schedule of activities" in plans in the coming academic year, and each offering must clearly demonstrate "how each activity promotes foreign language learning and advances the national security interests and economic stability of the United States." The Consortium must also provide a complete list of faculty, including their academic rank and employment status of each instructor.

Spokespeople for Duke and UNC confirmed receipt of the letter at their respective institutions; Duke officials are deferring comment to UNC, which is where the consortium's offices are located.

In an email, a spokeswoman for UNC-Chapel Hill told ABC11 the university "will respond directly to the Department of Education."