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The Fight for Title VI

The Fight for Title VI

Foreign language and international studies programs face major budget cuts

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Paul Berliner on African music
Duke ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner, center, and Cosmos Magaya, a Zimbabwean master of the mbira, talk at a Duke conference supported by Title VI funds.

Durham, NC - Less than a year after seven Duke centers received federal support to help Duke students and local teachers learn about other parts of the world, those same centers are facing potentially devastating budget cuts.

Depending on how the U.S. Department of Education interprets a federal funding bill in the coming weeks, international studies initiatives funded by Title VI of the Higher Education Act at universities nationwide could lose nearly half of their funding. 

The bill, which funds the federal budget through September, leaves specific cuts to the discretion of the department. Officials there are considering cuts of 40 percent, or $50 million, to Title VI programs and must decide on next steps by May 15.

"I was appalled at how the department is proposing to slash programs that are so important to our national security," said Gilbert Merkx, director of Duke's Center for International and Area Studies, a Title VI-funded center.

"If we eliminate these programs, we eliminate our capacity to generate expertise on a majority of countries in the world, in particular, countries in out of the way places," he added.

Duke currently receives more than $3 million in Title VI awards to seven centers, totaling more than $12 million over the four years of the current funding cycle.

If the 40 percent reduction in funding occurs, Duke may lose nearly $4 million over the remaining grant cycle, forcing it to curtail staff, programming and graduate fellowships.

"These centers enrich Duke because we offer languages we couldn't otherwise offer, have speakers and conferences on parts of the world like the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and provide the kind of intellectual, interdisciplinary activities that make it possible for students to study these parts of the world," Merkx says, noting that Duke is now one of the top two private universities with the most foreign area centers funded by Title VI grants.

Natalie Hartman, associate director of Duke's Title VI-funded Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, says budget cuts may affect the center's ability to offer instruction in less commonly taught languages students otherwise would not have the opportunity to study, such as Yucatec Maya, Haitian Creole and Brazilian Portuguese. 

biddle lecture
At the 2009 Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Jr. Lecture, three young Duke alumni talked about how international studies at Duke guided their career. Congress is looking at extensive cutbacks for Title VI funds, which fund significant initiatives in international studies at Duke.

"In addition, a major portion of our Title VI funding supports K-16 teacher training, including community colleges, and other outreach such as teacher workshops, teacher study tours, development of curriculum resources, a film lending library and a Latin American film festival," she says. "We are providing training and resources to low-performing schools in Durham and in other counties around North Carolina. For most of these activities our Title VI grant is the main source of funding and without it we would not be able to carry out these activities." 

Edna Andrews, professor and director of Duke's Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies, says cuts in funding for Title VI centers like hers would deeply compromise the efforts of Duke and other universities to teach their students about the world.

"These grants have made Duke University a better place, and they have provided not only funding for students to study less commonly taught languages, but they have funded new and innovative course work beyond languages in a variety of social sciences and humanities," she says.

Officials at Duke are communicating with legislators and federal administrators including officials at the White House, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, asking them to preserve as much funding as possible for the centers, said Christopher Simmons, Duke's associate vice president for federal relations.

"We are actively reaching out to our contacts in Washington, D.C., with a request to carefully consider the implications of these cuts and to ask for support in mitigating what could potentially be disastrous for international education across the country," said Simmons.

"It is short-sighted and dangerous to cut funding for Title VI programs, which build national expertise in international and area studies and train students in critically important foreign languages," Duke President Richard H. Brodhead wrote in a letter to Secretary Duncan.

"International education has taken decades to build, and if programs such as those supported by Title VI are not safeguarded, it could be difficult to reconstruct," Brodhead wrote.

In addition to highlighting the threat posed by next month's proposed budget cuts, Duke officials are also focusing on future budgets and have requested that Congress support a return to full funding of the programs at the 2010 level of $126 million.

Merkx says this isn't the first time Title VI programs have been threatened by legislative budget action, and he is hopeful officials will recognize the importance of maintaining funding for international education.

"[The programs] have been attacked before and survived because people recognized that we have to understand languages and gain understanding about the rest of the world," he says. "We have to develop a certain level of scholarship to teach the language, culture and history of a place. Through this program the U.S. has been able to do that."

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