American Association of University Professors – American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression – American Library Association – Association of American University Presses – Feminists for Free Expression – National Coalition Against Censorship – Peacefire – PEN American Center
Judd Gregg, Chairman
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6300
Dear Senator Gregg and Members of the Committee:
We write to express our concerns about HR 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, passed by a voice vote in the House of Representatives last fall and now under consideration in your committee. Specifically, our concern centers on §633 of the legislation, which establishes an International Advisory Board, and raises serious issues because of its potential to suppress certain views, chill dissent, and restrict academic discourse.
Ostensibly, the purpose of §633 is to create an advisory board to “promote the excellence of international education programs,” a laudable goal. However, the institutional mechanism it would create threatens to undermine, not enhance, the excellence of federally-funded international education programs and the respect they command.
By granting the advisory board the authority to “monitor,” “evaluate,” and “make recommendations,” the legislation creates a real risk that academic programs funded by the federal government with become, or be perceived as, politically driven. This concern is heightened by the fact that all members of the advisory board are appointed by politicians.
Members of the House and Senate, and even the Secretary of Education, are not the logical choices to select an academic advisory board. Their concerns are necessarily different from those of the academic community, and in some ways potentially antithetical to the academic mission. Leaving aside the serious issue of academic freedom, the injection of political considerations into the content of higher education can only serve to undermine its integrity.
Two of the most vocal proponents of the legislation, Daniel Pipes and Stanley Kurtz, take no pains to conceal that the purpose of the advisory board is to influence the content of funded programs to meet political objectives. Specifically, they object to the views and writings of the late Edward Said, whose work is widely read in mid-east studies programs. In his Congressional testimony, Kurtz characterized Said as “anti-American.”
Said, while critical of American policies, is regarded by many experts on the middle east as an important scholar and thinker. To dismiss him as “un-American” grossly and unjustly oversimplifies his body of work. Said was, if nothing else, prolific; he wrote 20 books and hundreds of articles, and his work has been subjected to critical analyses many times over.
Even if he were not esteemed, he was surely within his rights to advance his views, no matter how unpopular. There are sharp divisions of thought among mid-east scholars. And contemporary faculty are surely within their rights to assign and discuss his or any other relevant work. It bears noting that academic readings are rarely simply accepted uncritically; rather a central purpose of higher education is to teach students the practice of critical analysis.
A higher education advisory board whose implicit mission is to review academic programs for their slant on specific issues and views is a form of censorship. At the point at which colleges and universities cannot teach about politically sensitive issues without Congressional oversight, we will have abandoned our commitment to freedom of speech, thought, and inquiry.
All sides in this dispute have the right to advance their views in the marketplace of ideas. Open and vigorous discussion and debate are the basic tools of a free society. It is un-American, in the most basic sense, to suppress disputed or unpopular ideas, or to engage in “thought-control,” no matter how subtle.
The Supreme Court long ago warned against the impulse to “burn the house to roast the pig.” We suggest that §633 could do just that, by undermining basic First Amendment principles in the name of preserving freedom. We strongly urge you to leave decisions about curricular content where they belong, in the capable hands of the academic community.
Joan E. Bertin, Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship
275 7th Avenue, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Mark F. Smith, Director of Government Relations
American Association of University Professors
1012 14th Street, NW, Suite #500
Washington, DC 20005
202-737-5900, ext. 3042
On behalf of:
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Christopher Finan, President
American Library Association, Lynne Bradley, Director, Office of Government Relations
Association of American University Presses, Peter Givler, Executive Director
Feminists for Free Expression, Marilyn Fitterman, Vice President
Peacefire, Bennett Haselton, Coordinator
PEN American Center, Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs