Washington (QNN)- The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, arguing that it’s misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism.
The Education Department wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings by Sept. 22 or risk losing future funding from a federal grant that’s awarded to dozens of universities to support foreign language instruction, The Associated Press reported. The consortium received $235,000 from the grant last year, according to Education Department data.
The Education Department said in its letter 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 Education Department added 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.”
Academic freedom advocates say the government could be setting a dangerous precedent if it injects politics into funding decisions. Some said they had never heard of the Education Department asserting control over such minute details of a program’s offerings.
“Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?” said Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors. “The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered an investigation into the program in June after North Carolina Rep. George Holding, a Republican, claimed that it hosted a taxpayer-funded conference with “severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.” The conference, titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” included a rapper who performed a “brazenly anti-Semitic song,” Holding said in an April 15 letter .
The inquiry joins a broader Education Department effort to root out anti-Semitism at U.S. universities. Speaking at a summit on the topic in July, DeVos attacked a movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, calling it a “pernicious threat” on college campuses.