White House Threatens To Deny Funds To Duke And UNC Over ‘Positive Aspects Of Islam’ Being Taught
A joint consortium from Duke and the University of North Carolina, which seeks to provide a variety of classes on the Middle East and the history of Islam in the region, may face reprimand from the U.S. Department of Education over the content of some of its teachings.
In an August 29 letter from the Education Department to Duke and UNC, the Trump administration expressed alarm over a supposed lack of “balance of perspectives” between Judeo-Christian lessons and ones focused on Islam, the Associated Press reported.
The administration is concerned that “a considerable emphasis” is being placed on “understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East,” the letter from the department stated.
The Education Department wants the consortium to revise their offerings by September 22 of this year. Failure to do so could result in federal grants to the programs being removed, the letter warns.
Last year, the consortium between the two schools received $235,000 in grant funds.
Critics contend that the administration is overstepping its bounds in trying to amend the consortium’s content. Zoha Khalili, a lawyer with Palestinian Legal, a pro-Palestinian organization, explained in a statement to the New York Times that the letter from the Education Department was an intimidation tactic.
“They really want to send the message that if you want to criticize Israel, then the federal government is going to look very closely at your entire program and micromanage it to death. … [It] sends a message to Middle Eastern studies programs that their continued existence depends on their willingness to toe the government line on Israel,” Khalili said.
The Dept. of Education under Betsy Devos has been sniffing around for perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education. https://t.co/y4KzTnkqbD
— Slate (@Slate) September 20, 2019
The administration began its examination of the Duke-UNC consortium after a complaint was filed by a Republican state legislator, who alleged the program contained a “severe anti-Israel bias,” as well as including “anti-Semitic rhetoric.” Upon that complaint being filed, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opened up a formal investigation.
Although the final conclusions of that investigation are outlined above, no allegations of biases against Israel were found.
Duke has not yet responded to the letter from the Education Department. UNC issued a statement acknowledging that it received the letter, saying it would be happy to “provide more information about its programs” to the administration in order to continue the consortium.