The Trump administration is threatening to withdraw federal funding from two universities — Duke and the University of North Carolina — for a joint Middle East studies program the Department of Education says portrays Islam too positively.
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The Education Department wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies that the program disproportionately portrays “the positive aspects of Islam.” The agency requested they amend the program by Sept. 22 or lose a grant they’ve been receiving for almost a decade.
In its letter, the Education Department claims 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, adding 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.”
Asked about the letter sent to the two schools, a spokesperson for the Department of Education denied that its review of the Middle East program being taught was based on Islamophobia, remarking:
“It is patently false that the Department is reviewing the program as being too positive on Islam. 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. Pro-Islamic programming isn’t the concern — it’s the lack of diversity and foreign language learning.”
All of this began when a Republican member of Congress wrote to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos:
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.
Holding told the AP that the Education Department has a right to ensure funding is being used properly.
The Middle East consortium being taught by the two schools has a total enrollment of 960 students.
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