A handful of congressional leaders are calling upon the Department of Education to keep a watchful eye on the potential misuse of taxpayer money at American universities. One Middle East expert is suggesting anti-Semitism may be at work in some of those cases.
In an effort to strengthen national security, Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 provides a means for universities to produce and maintain an array of diverse perspectives from scholars and experts around the world. For decades, this Cold War-era legislation has allowed federal funds to be provided to multiple universities for this purpose.
Now, according to one expert, some universities may be using taxpayer dollars to "undermine national security, [not seeking] to strengthen it at all." OneNewsNow spoke to Winfield Myers, director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum (MEF) and director of its Campus Watch program. While concerns may exist in other areas of study, Middle East studies have been his primary area of focus.
In what he considers an "egregious" example of a blatant Title VI violation, Myers describes a case involving the chairperson of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at the University of California, Berkeley.
"In 2009, [Emily Gottreich] was a signatory to a letter urging the entire University of California system – not just [the campus at] Berkeley – to not reopen its education abroad program in Israel," he shares – adding: "This raises a lot of issues."
The Campus Watch director explains that one of the requirements of Title VI is to ensure universities maintain ties with overseas institutions. "Any move that favors the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement against Israel is necessarily violating Title VI," he argues.
Myers shares a letter sent to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos by Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), quoting: "It is especially egregious coming from a chair of a Title VI funded center and raises serious legal questions regarding her continued leadership of CMES."
"If an administrator cannot obey the law and not attempt to boycott Israel, how can anyone rest assured that [others like] a mere professor would not do the same?" Myers asks. "How can anyone rest assured there will not be an attempt in some way to reduce, harm, or impede the university's necessity to establish and maintain relationships with, in this case, Israeli universities?"
And this is not a problem unique to Berkeley, Myers says. He asserts there are growing concerns about the actions of other universities which "violate the intent and the law of both the letter and the spirit of Title VI – [revealing] a misuse of taxpayer money [and] a violation of federal regulations."
Myers emphasizes that the language in Title VI specifically requires every recipient of federal funding to give assurances the educational center will "maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the center or program."
He states: "[This is] one of the principal things that Berkeley has violated."
To date, no institution has lost funding over any abuses of Title VI funds at Middle East studies centers. However, a series of congressional letters which began over a year ago are beginning to heighten awareness of a growing problem. In 2019, Congressman George Holding (R-North Carolina) wrote a letter concerning Duke University and the University of North Carolina's joint Consortium for Middle East Studies. The letter launched an investigation which found significant abuses.
For example – this year Congressman Denver Riggleman (R-Virginia) sent a letter with concerns about Georgetown University; Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) composed a letter regarding issues at the University of Arizona; and most recently, Congressman Scott DesJarlais (R-Tennessee) requested an investigation into the CMES at Yale University.
"The problem [of anti-Semitism] on university campuses is getting a good bit of attention in a way that it had not before," Myers notes. "Things need to be shaken up a bit" – and members of Congress need to be pressured to contact the Department of Education, he contends.
"The most immediate need is for the Department of Education to launch investigations of various centers," he continues. "While no one has lost funding from the current spate of letters, the most important element of all this is that it's finally putting universities on watch about their misuse of federal dollars.
"I would love for this to be the point of the spear of getting greater oversight of higher education [funding provided by taxpayers]," Myers concludes.