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Government reductions force cuts to language programs

Several academic centers at Duke are expected to lose nearly $4 million because of cuts to government spending on international and foreign language education.

Last Fall, the University was awarded more than $12 million in competitive federal grants—from Title VI of the Higher Education Act—to be distributed over four years. Because of the government’s spending reductions for fiscal year 2010-2011, however, Duke’s seven Title VI-funded centers will receive a lesser amount than promised. The exact size of the reductions to Duke’s programs will be confirmed in coming weeks.

The seven affected centers—including the Center for International Studies, the Middle East Studies Center and the Language Resource Center for Slavic and Eurasian Languages—offer a variety of cultural studies programs and less commonly taught foreign languages. These topics are critical to national security and business interests, said Gilbert Merkx, vice provost for international affairs and director of international and area studies.

“[The United States] won’t have any capabilities in these languages unless the federal money supports the teaching of those languages,” Merkx said. “Virtually everyone who works in these languages in these strange places has been trained in Title VI [centers].”

Merkx added that military officers are often trained at Title VI centers in universities across the country—including Duke.

Carl Herrin, senior partner at the consulting firm Global Education Solutions, said the government’s total cuts to Title VI funding nationally are expected to reach 40 percent, or approximately $50 million. Herrin added that these cuts were unexpected.

“Given the rhetoric of [the federal] administration, it was very unlikely that there would be significant reductions,” Herrin said. “That they would be on the order of 40 percent was beyond the pale.”

Although expected cuts have yet to be confirmed, some of Duke’s centers have begun to discuss strategies for combatting their anticipated budgetary reductions. Edna Andrews, director of the Title VI Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European studies, said her program will have to reduce its extracurricular spending—used to host guest speakers or hold conferences—in order to focus on graduate studies.

“We’ll have to put most of our efforts into what we believe in most—graduate fellowships and courses,” Andrews said.

Merkx said the Center for International Studies is spending as little as possible this summer in order to save for the Fall because it may have to cut “virtually all” programming in order to maintain core staff members.

He also noted that the centers may have to cut some programs that are required in order to receive Title VI funding—an obstacle that could prevent them from effectively competing in the next grant competition in three years.

Since the federal appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010-2011 was passed in April, Duke has been lobbying to try and maintain its share of the total Title VI funding, said Chris Simmons, associate vice president for federal relations. President Richard Brodhead also sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking the secretary to consider the importance of international studies programs while assessing potential cuts. Simmons noted, however, Duke’s options for appeal are limited.

Herrin said that though the federal government may support Title VI programs, the cuts originate from pressure to reduce discretionary spending in order to maintain substantial funding for programs such as Pell grants—need-based grants for higher education.

“The longer that the money [for Title VI programs] isn’t there, the harder it is to get it back,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether Title VI is important for education, it’s ‘Is that more important than a Pell grant?’”

Still, Simmons said Duke is hopeful that lobbying efforts and government budget restoration will allow for renewed Title VI funding as soon as fiscal year 2011-2012.

“We’re hoping that this is just a bad gash,” he said.


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