Education Department threatens to revoke funding for Duke and UNC Middle East studies program over focus on ‘positive aspects of Islam’
The US Department of Education is threatening to revoke a university Middle East studies program’s federal funding, alleging — among other complaints — that its curriculum fails to address the plight of the region’s Christians and Jews.
In a letter to Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which jointly run the Consortium for Middle East Studies, Assistant Secretary Robert King says the program lacks balance.
It offers “few, if any, programs focused on the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yadizis, Kurds, Druze, and others,” King writes.
The letter, published in the Federal Register, says that in materials for elementary and secondary students and teachers, “there is a considerable emphasis 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.
“This lack of balance of perspectives is troubling and strongly suggests that Duke-UNC CMES is not meeting (the) legal requirement” to provide a “full understanding” of the region, the letter states. King also accused the program of failing to adequately prioritize language instruction.
CNN has reached out for comment to the consortium’s centers at both universities, the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center.
The Education Department declined to discuss the letter when contacted for comment.
The consortium receives funding under Title VI, whose funds are meant for cultural and language programs designed to develop experts.
King instructed the program to prove that it will restructure its materials in accordance with funding requirements.
“As a condition for future Title VI funding, the Duke-UNC CMES is directed to provide a revised schedule of activities that it plans to support for the coming year, including a description demonstrating how each activity promotes foreign language learning and advances the national security interests and economic stability of the United States,” the letter says.