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The ASA joins 18 major scholarly societies in expressing concern about the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title VI

Robert L. King

Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education

U.S. Department of Education

LBJ Building, 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20202


Attn: Patrick Shaheen

U.S. Department of Education, Office of the General Counsel

400 Maryland Ave. SW, room 6E300

Washington, DC 20202


Dear Mr. King,

We, the official representatives of the undersigned American academic associations, read your letter of 29 August 2019, addressed to Dr. Terry Magnuson, Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of North Carolina and subsequently published in the Federal Register, with considerable concern and surprise. The allegation contained in that letter that “most” of the activities of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, a Title VI National Resource Center, are “unauthorized” under Title VI funding, appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how expertise in foreign languages, cultural competencies, and area and international knowledge in general is obtained. The letter also constitutes an unprecedented and counterproductive intervention into academic curricula and programming that threatens the integrity and autonomy of our country’s institutions of higher education.

Title VI of the Higher Education Act recognized that “the security, stability and economic vitality of the United States” depended upon “American experts in and citizens knowledgeable about world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs…” and that the best way to meet this need was to support centers, programs, and fellowships in institutions of higher education that could teach modern languages and offer instruction “in fields needed to provide full understanding of areas, regions, or countries in which such language is commonly used” (20 U.S.C. 1122 (a) 1 (B)). Title VI grants are made through a highly competitive process to academic institutions that have demonstrated that they have the faculty and the administrators to design and run courses and programs to meet the stated goals of Title VI grants, namely to teach students the languages as well as the political, historical, and cultural knowledge they need for this full understanding. NRC Centers are staffed by top specialists who have spent many years learning, researching, and teaching about their respective regions. They have a well-honed grasp of how to design courses and activities that impart their regional expertise to others. Your letter, in tone and content, suggests an intention not only to significantly narrow the scope of Title VI activities, but also to micromanage them. It is unclear why these changes are being demanded and which experts, if any, in the field of international studies have been consulted.

International studies in the United States is a real success story: Title VI centers have provided this country with several generations of regional experts and have led the way in regional studies nationally and globally. The education and training provided by academic programs supported by Title VI have consistently linked language training to international education in a range of disciplines that enable students to attain the depth and breadth of knowledge they need to become regional experts. These experts have gone on to use their skills and knowledge in a variety of sectors — government, private, academic and non-profit — fully in accord with the goals of Title VI to meet national needs for regional expertise across the board. We are very concerned that the approach outlined in your letter, tying funding to considerations that have little to do with developing and supporting area studies of the highest quality, will undermine the mission of Title VI, and set back the cause of international studies in this country.

Respectfully yours,

African Studies Association

American Academy of Religion

American Anthropological Association

American Historical Association

American Sociological Association

American Studies Association

Association for Asian Studies

Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Central Eurasian Studies Society

Joint National Committee for Languages

Latin American Studies Association

Middle East Studies Association

Modern Language Association

National Communication Association

National Council for Languages and International Studies

Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study

Society of Architectural Historians

Society of Biblical Literature

World History Association

Posted for ASA Office in Press Releases
Post date: September 25, 2019

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