Americans for Peace Now mobilized opposition to the confirmation of Kenneth Marcus as Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights in the Department of Education over concerns that he would use his position to suppress free speech and intervene in curricula on college campuses. To our dismay, following his narrow confirmation by the Senate, Marcus has done exactly that. In the latest instance, the Department of Education ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop a plan for remaking their joint Middle East studies program in order to continue receiving federal funding. Among the alleged problems raised was “a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam” in programming for elementary and secondary school teachers and a lack of “similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion of belief system in the Middle East.”
Notably, the scrutiny of the Duke-UNC program began when Rep. George Holding (R-NC) requested that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos investigate whether the consortium used federal funding to hold a conference on Gaza which Holding accused of “radical anti-Israel bias.” President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and former APN Director of Policy and Government Relations Lara Friedman was a speaker at that conference. She has argued that the furor over the conference is really “outrage over the fact that a conference that focused on the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian equation was allowed to take place at all.”
APN takes seriously the warning of UNC Professor Jay Smith, who stated that the Department of Education’s action regarding the Duke-UNC program constitutes “ideologically driven harassment” and an attempt by government officials to override academic experts in determining what constitutes a “’full understanding’ of the Middle East.” We oppose efforts by the Department of Education to use government funding as leverage to force universities to change the content of their Middle East studies curricula and to suppress criticism of Israel on their campuses.