The Trump administration is pressuring the University of North Carolina and Duke University to revise their joint Middle East studies program that disproportionately portrays “the positive aspects of Islam” by September 22 or risk losing a federal grant they’ve been receiving for almost a decade, The Associated Press reported.
The Education Department wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies that foreign language and national security have “taken a back seat to other priorities” that have “little or no relevance” to the objectives of the grant. The AP notes that the National Resource Center provides grants to programs that support foreign language learning.
The letter claimed that the program places “a considerable emphasis” on the “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 department said in its letter that the program has until Sept. 22 to send a “revised schedule of activities” and describe how each relates to foreign language and national security.
“It is patently false that the Department is reviewing the program as being too positive on Islam,” a department spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “We’re reviewing UNC-Duke’s use of grant funds because we are concerned that they have not followed congressional requirements for the program — that students must learn a foreign language and hear diverse regional perspectives.”
“Our inquiry has nothing to do with their program having an Islamic bias,” the spokesperson added. “Pro-Islamic programming isn’t the concern — it’s the lack of diversity and foreign language learning.”
A spokesperson said in a statement that “the Consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program.”
“In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the Consortium is committed to working with the Department to provide more information about its programs,” the spokesperson said.
The Hill reports:
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s investigation into the consortium began after Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) sent her a letter condemning the program for holding a conference with “severe anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
DeVos said she was “troubled” by the letter and would look into the consortium, The Associated Press reported.