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DSG Senate passes resolution against Department of Education after heated debate

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Duke Student Government Senate passed a resolution condemning the U.S. Department of Education. 

The resolution followed the Department of Education’s letter regarding the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. Signed Aug. 29, the letter criticized the program for alleged misuse of Title VI funds that are intended to aid foreign language and international studies centers. 

The letter also reprimanded the program for a poor addressal of Middle Eastern religious minorities’ hardships in its curriculum. The Department of Education demanded that both universities restructure their program and provide documentation to federal officials in response to these allegations.

Senators Zac Johnson, a sophomore, and Omar Benallal, a junior, introduced the resolution. It condemns the Department of Education’s mandate to reconstruct and remove funding from the consortium, and thus urges the University to not rewrite the consortium’s curriculum regarding the Middle East. 

DSG concludes the resolution by adding that they “condemn Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in any form, including, but not exclusive to, institutional and verbal acts of discrimination or oppression and that we value academic freedom and free speech.”

The Senate held multiple caucuses on whether DSG should table the resolution until next week to allow senators to gather additional perspectives on the issue and further discuss the matter with the Duke administration before passing the resolution.

Senator Nehal Jain, a sophomore, spoke out against tabling the resolution. 

“It is important that we get this out, show the administration that we really care about this,” Jain said. “The whole purpose of DSG is for us to do things like this rather than just sitting here and saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay'. This is the time for us to do active work.”

In response, Gerald Harris, the director of student involvement and DSG advisor, argued that DSG could benefit from greater dialogue with Duke. 

“You have to be willing to talk to the individuals that you are writing the resolution to before writing the actual resolution,” Harris said. “Make sure you talk to the administrators before talking about the administrators.”

However, Benallal pushed back against Harris, arguing that DSG could not afford to delay the resolution. 

“While having a conversation with the Duke administration would need to happen, the whole issue is the lost time and what it would mean to the resolution,” Benallal said.

Senators made several amendments to the resolution, including placing further emphasis on Duke’s academic freedom in its instructional content.

After the heated discussion, DSG voted to pass the resolution without tabling it.

In other business:

The Senate confirmed Senator Jannis Stoeter, a junior, as the new Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate also confirmed two new first-year members to the Student Organization Finance Committee, Drew Flanagan and William Xie, who is also the DSG treasurer-in-training.

Meanwhile, the Senate unanimously approved $1875.65 in SOFC funding for Inside Joke’s comedy event showcasing their new members and funded $2,100 for the Black Men’s Union’s Brothers Breaking Bread program.

The Senate also unanimously chartered the Nepalese Student Association. However, a motion was tabled until next week on chartering Audacity Labs, a non-profit organization that seeks to support local high school student startups, out of concerns about the group’s constitution. 


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