February 24, 2004 | Broadcast

Money & Markets

Congress responded by offering a grant to U.S. colleges to help fund Middle East study programs, but now critics say some professors are abusing the program by not presenting a balanced picture of the Middle East or properly explaining anti-American sentiment. As a result, some lawmakers in Washington have called for a review, and possibly greater control of these programs.

Would such a move be an infringement’s academic independence or does the government have a right to guide the program that they are paying for? Joining us from Washington to talk about this issue is Mark Smith, director of government relations at the American Association of University Professors; and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Welcome to you both.



HAFFENREFFER: Mark, would this be censorship if Uncle Sam came in and decided to direct these programs a bit?

SMITH: It certainly raises that possibility. I think it’s important to remember what the purpose of higher education is; the purpose of higher education is not to spoon feed information to children. It’s do develop the ability to think critically about ideas.

Students need to absorb, analyze critically and understand ideas. Critical thinking cannot be spoon fed. We want to see students who question, who challenge, and criticize ideas. Government standards do the opposite of that, and it’s not appropriate in the American heritage of higher education.

We don’t want to see government controlling thinking.

HAFFENREFFER: Cliff May, we’re talking about $100 million here. Not all of it in the so-called area studies, some of in the language arena, as well. But I guess it is the area studies that are drawing most of the criticism here?

MAY: Yes, but the criticism is unfounded. Look, we’re all against censorship. We’re all against the government dictating. But we’re talking about tax dollars that are being spent for a purpose. And all that’s being proposed is an advisory board that would try to maintain some accountability. For example, if taxpayer money is being spent to increase Arabic speakers, then let’s make sure the money’s not being used for Chinese art.

Also, we’d like to encourage intellectual diversity on campuses, particularly in the Middle Eastern Studies Department. We don’t have that. We have tremendous imbalance. And it would be nice not to defund anybody, not to censor anybody but to encourage some balance so that all the professors are not all the time telling the students that they live in the worst country in the world and that their leaders are criminals. You have a lot of that taking place, right now, in too many Middle Eastern Studies Departments.

HAFFENREFFER: Mark Smith, do you see it that way?

SMITH: Not completely. I think, you know, there are examples of different things going on in a lot of way, but it’s not government’s role to get in and dictate the content of what is going on in these programs.

MAY: No one’s dictating content.

SMITH: As I said .


MAY: No one is doing that. No one is dictating content.

SMITH: Education is a process of enlightenment, not indoctrination.

MAY: Absolutely!

SMITH: I have great faith in our students and the American people they understand the difference.


SMITH: But again, students need to understand a variety of cultures, a variety of languages. I think we both agree that we need to fund foreign language study. This country needs to know more languages. This country needs to know and understand more cultures. We’re a nation of a multitude of cultures. We need to understand those.


MAY: No one disagree with any of that. All we’re talking about is an advisory board to see that the taxpayer money is being spent in a way that is consistent with taxpayer interest. In fact I think it would be a bad idea to simply throw $100 million on the campuses and not look to see if that money was being spent well.

If years from now Americans say why didn’t we have in the FBI and the CIA a sufficient number of Arabic language speakers?  Would you want to come back and say because we idn’t ask for any accountability? If everybody who graduates from colleges has the view that the American government is just the worst in the world, is that a good thing?

I understand there are professors who don’t want their students working for the Defense Department, CIA, FBI, fine. But then don’t take the government money, which obviously has a purpose.

And again, that purpose is to encourage much more balance, encourage much more diversity than we have right now. We don’t have enough right now. 

The father of Middle Eastern Studies is Edward Said (ph), the late Edward Said. He is somebody who wanted Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Wesley Clark, brought up as war criminals.

I think we need —

MAY: I’m trying to encourage more diversity on the campuses. And also, right now, the Saudis have funded so many chairs in Middle Eastern studies. That’s a problem because what you’re getting is not education but indoctrination.

And, Mark, you have to see indoctrination rather than education as a problem, and taxpayers should be concerned about it.

HAFFENREFFER: I guess the problem here, Mark, is that this is public money coming in here. Could the universities, both public and private, they get the money, offer programs without taking the government’s money?

SMITH: Well, this is — does involve both public and private universities. Again, I’m glad that we both agree we need to have a diversity in higher education, education is a process of enlightenment. Again, I don’t believe there ‘s the level of indoctrination going on that my friend seems to believe.

I think it’s important that we look at the overall picture, and we need to remember — what the purpose is.


MAY: Let me give you just real quick examples.

HAFFENREFFER: Go ahead and give us some examples.

MAY: Columbia University, the Middle East Institute presents “Against All Reason”, the U.S. administration’s litany of errors in Iraq.

NYU, the Kevorkian Center, every essay on September 11 criticizes the U.S. It’s “oil driven agenda” and
hegemony. It’s “murderous sanctions: on Iraq. It asks, the article’s asking, why was there no aid and mediation with the Taliban?


MAY: We right now have  to admit, Mark, and I wish we
could, that we have a problem in the Middle East Studies Departments of most American universities. Martin Kramer has written a wonderful book exploring this.  I don’t see any impetus to change.

SMITH: I’m aware of Mr. Kramer’s book.

MAY: Again — I know you are — I don’t see any impetus to change, again any university can do anything they want. If they take government money all we ask is that they study the languages we’re asking and also that there be more emphasis on diversity, which can certainly —


SMITH: I certainly agree with you that we need to –


HAFFENREFFER: OK, Mark, go ahead.

SMITH: I just would like to point out, this isn’t a new issue in the history of education. These issues have come up again and again and again. In the early 1980s, historian Walter Metzger (ph) wrote, when government dictates the content of courses, converts the university into a bureau the public administration, the subject into a vehicle for partisan politics, and the act of teaching into a species of ventriloquism.

MAY: Again, it’s an advisory board. It’s an advisory board.

SMITH: I keep coming back –


SMITH: The advisory board has the power to monitor and make recommendations to Congress.

MAY: Monitor and make recommendations. That’s not dictating.

SMITH: There are implications (ph) that are very disturbing about this.

MAY: Mark, Mark, you are an academic. You know the difference between monitoring and making recommendations on the one hand, and dictating on the other. You can see that difference.

HAFFENREFFER: Gentlemen, hang on one moment. I do want to ask Mark about whether or not he does hear of instances where — or he does have any concern about bias in the classroom. Is that something that comes up frequently at the American Association of the University of Professors, or no?

SMITH: We have heard of some instances, largely from people like Mr. Kramer and his allies.

HAFFENREFFER: But would it concern you to hear about instances in programs that were being funded by the government?

SMITH: Again, I come back to what the purpose of higher education is, which is to challenge ideas and for the student to develop critical thinking. When ideas are introduced it is not a matter of a faculty member indoctrinating a group of students. There is a process of challenging the students’ ideas. The student then challenging back. It’s important to remember that this is a process of –


MAY: David, on most campuses the reality is conservatives, Republicans, need not apply as professors and if they are students they are quickly taught they have no place in that department. They’d better go somewhere else. That’s a problem. I wish they’d deal with it.

HAFFENREFFER: We have to leave it there.

SMITH: We have a number of conservative members of the association.

HAFFENREFFER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much. Mark Smith, of the American Association of University Professors and Cliff May from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.