The Trump administration has threatened to withdraw federal funding for a Middle East studies course jointly taught by Duke University and the University of North Carolina because it believes the course is too positive in its depiction of Islam in comparison with its portrayal of Judaism and Christianity. The Department of Education said the consortium had failed to offer a “balance of perspectives” on the religions and ordered the universities to remake the course to provide a more “positive” portrayal of Judaism and Christianity or lose its federal funding. The consortium received $235,000 in federal grant money last year. 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,” the Department of Education said in its letter to the schools.
“In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the department asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs,” the New York Times reports. “The inquiry was part of a far-reaching investigation into the program by the department, which under Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.”
“More than a dozen universities receive National Resource Center grants for their Middle East programs, including Columbia, Georgetown, Yale and the University of Texas. The Duke-UNC consortium was founded in 2005 and first received the grant nearly a decade ago,” the Associated Press reports. “In the UNC-Duke case, the department’s findings did not directly address any bias against Israel but instead evaluated whether the consortium’s proposed activities met the goals of the National Resource Center program, which was created in 1965 to support language and culture initiatives that prepare students for careers in diplomacy and national security.”