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Department of Education questions if Duke-UNC Middle East program advances 'national security'

<p>Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons</p>

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In a newly released letter, the U.S. Department of Education informed the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies that it may have violated federal rules.

After launching an investigation in June, the Department of Education determined that the program had misused Title VI funds, which support international studies and programs at U.S. universities.

Robert King, assistant secretary of postsecondary education, originally sent the letter Aug. 29.

The Department of Education, led by Betsy DeVos, announced the investigation in June in response to a request from Rep. George Holding, R-N.C. Holding's push for federal oversight came after the consortium hosted a controversial conference on Gaza in March.

The letter takes broad aim at Duke-UNC CMES' activities.

Among other things, the Department of Education criticizes the program for its lack of focus on neither the historical persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East nor their current circumstances.

"There is a considerable emphasis placed 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," according to the letter.

Other criticisms leveled at the joint endeavor include cross-department initiatives that do not meet federal standards and an excessive focus on the arts over national security and stability.

The Department of Education also determined that Duke-UNC CMES doesn't meet Title VI grants' foreign language program requirements.

"The teacher-training activities hosted by the Duke-UNC CMES lack lawful focus on language development and instead advance narrow, particularized views of American social issues," King wrote.

The notice points out that while many instructors in the program are tenured or on tenure track, most foreign language classes are taught by non-tenure track faculty.

The Chronicle reached out for comment to the Duke University Middle East Studies Center’s contact email. DUMESC has not replied in time for publication. 

In order to qualify for future Title VI funding, the Department of Education is requiring Duke-UNC CMES to send a full schedule of its activities for the next year. The program also has to include justifications for all activities, including how they each advance foreign language teaching and promotes "national security interests and economic stability."

The Department of Education set a deadline of Sept. 22 to respond to the letter with a plan and timetable for sending the schedule.

The letter was sent to Terry Magnuson, vice chancellor for research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Duke President Vincent Price and Jack Bovender, chair of the Duke Board of Trustees, were copied on the letter.

A public notice about the letter was published in the "Federal Register" on Sept. 17. The "Federal Register" releases the full text of official federal rules and notices. 

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