Duke, University of North Carolina must fix pro-Islam bias in Middle East program, government says


(JTA) — The U.S. Education Department told Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to revise its federally funded Middle East Studies program because of an alleged pro-Islam bias.

The assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Robert King, wrote in a letter to university officials last week that programs run by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies appeared to be misaligned with the $235,000 federal grant it had received, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Federal resources offered to the program are part of Title VI funding, which strengthens diversity in international studies.

In June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered a probe of the consortium, which sponsored an event in March titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities” featuring supporters of boycotts against Israel.

Too few of the Duke-UN. programs focused on “the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds, Druze and others,” the department said.

There was “a considerable emphasis placed on understanding the positive aspects of Islam,” the letter also said, but of no other religion or culture.

University spokespeople told The Times that their institutions will work with the department on the program.

Zoha Khalili, a staff lawyer at the Palestine Legal group, criticized what she called an attempt by the government to “micromanage to death” any program that criticizes Israel.

Miriam Elman, director of the Academic Engagement Network, told The Times that the intervention helps diversity in academia.

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