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AAC&U Urges Senate to remove controversial advisory board from Title IV legislation

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The following letter was sent to US Senators on February 26, 2004:

Dear Senator:

I am writing as president of an organization representing more than 900 colleges and universities and with a long history of commitment to foreign language study, international education, and global learning. I write concerning the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003 (HR 3077) recently passed by the House of Representatives and referred for consideration to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee. While our membership is very supportive of the extension of all 10 Title VI programs the bill provides, they are extremely concerned about the creation of the new advisory board that it includes.

We strongly agree that in the post-September 11 global environment college students need many more opportunities to learn to speak languages other than English and to learn about cultures beyond the United States. I am confident that faculty and administrators at our member colleges and universities fully concur that, to quote the proposed bill, “the events and aftermath of September 11, 2001 have underscored the need for the nation to strengthen and enhance American knowledge of international relations, world regions, and foreign languages.” Consistent with the distinguished history of American higher education, college and university faculty themselves, however, are in the best position to develop appropriate curricula to address this pressing need.

Our members strongly support aspects of the legislation that encourage and support programs to increase students’ opportunities to study abroad and to study foreign languages, especially those less commonly taught. The bill renews the highly successful Title VI international education programs and makes improvements to those programs. We fully support this aspect of the proposed legislation.

We believe, however, that the proposed advisory board and related amendments concerning “diverse perspectives and a full range of views” are unnecessary to advance the larger goals of the bill and would seriously undermine important principles of academic freedom that have been essential to maintaining the independence and quality of American higher education.

We have serious concerns about the impact of the proposed International Education Advisory Board on the ability of colleges and universities to continue their long tradition of independent scholarly inquiry free of intrusive or partisan governmental supervision. We fear that the proposed board could impinge on college and university decision-making regarding curricula and seems to be set up to “investigate” rather than “advise” the higher education community on the pressing national needs.

We do not believe an advisory board is necessary for Title VI, as it continues to address national needs very well. The Department of Education administers multiple layers of oversight on Title VI programs, and has the ability to make site visits to grantees and address problems at any time. Moreover, the Secretary participates in several interagency activities designed to identify national needs in foreign language and international education. We believe that the funds would better be spent on additional FLAS fellows in Arabic and other less commonly taught languages.

If an advisory board is established, however, it is very important that such a board enhance opportunities for dialogue, communication, and education about national needs, but that it not exercise undue influence or oversight of individual campus activities, including curricular decisions. It should be a properly constructed advisory board, accountable to the Secretary of Education, and charged with simply advisory responsibilities, as is the case with other education advisory boards. The board’s makeup should include the full range of federal agencies that benefit from Title VI training and can advise on national needs, as well as experts on foreign language and international education.

I would be happy to discuss our concerns with you or any of your colleagues or staff members and hope that we will be able to fully support the version of the bill that emerges from the conference.

Sincerely,

Carol Geary Schneider
President

Carol Geary Schneider