Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called on University of North Carolina and Duke University to amend the curriculum of their joint Middle Eastern studies program, claiming it does not include enough positive material about religions other than Islam. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

DeVos Threatens to Cut Funding for Middle Eastern Studies Programs for 'Portraying Islam Too Positively'

"This is what a real threat to free speech on a college campus looks like."

Julia Conley

Sunday marked a deadline for the University of North Carolina and Duke University to submit information to the Trump administration about the two schools' Consortium for Middle East Studies, after the Department of Education accused the joint program of biases against Christianity and Judaism.

The DOE called on the schools to provide a list of events it is supporting during the school year and a full list of courses it's offering, claiming in a letter sent late last month that in the program, "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 program should emphasize "foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States," wrote the department.

Critics denounced the demand by education secretary Betsy DeVos as part of President Donald Trump's Islamophobic agenda.

The consortium teaches Middle Eastern languages, history, and geopolitics, and well as hosting community events focused on the majority-Muslim region's culture.

DeVos opened an investigation into the program in June after it took part in a conference titled "Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities," to determine if Duke and UNC had "misused" any of the $235,000 it received in federal grants under the Title VI program, to promote "radical anti-Israel bias."

"They really want to send the message that if you want to criticize Israel, then the federal government is going to look very closely at your entire program and micromanage it to death," Zoha Khalili, staff lawyer at Palestinian rights group Palestine Legal, told the New York Times.

DeVos's targeting of the consortium "sends a message to Middle Eastern studies programs that their continued existence depends on their willingness to toe the government line on Israel," she said.

UNC acknowledged it had received the DOE's letter and told the Times it is "committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs."

If the DOE decides that the program is insufficiently focused on Christianity and Judaism, it stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Title VI program.

The DOE's request comes as many on the right, including the Trump administration, have condemned so-called attacks on free speech on college campuses.

"This is what a real threat to free speech on a college campus looks like," David Perry wrote at CNN. "It looks like the federal government telling a university how and what to teach its students."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

McDonald's Workers Join 'Striketober' and Walk Out Over Sexual Harassment

One striker participated because "McDonald's still refuses to take responsibility for the countless women and teenagers who face harassment on the job at its stores across the globe."

Jessica Corbett ·


Breaking: FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Covid-19 Vaccine for Kids 5 to 11

With just one abstention, the advisory panel voted 17-0 to approve the vaccine for younger children which scientific review has deemed both safe and effective against the deadly virus.

Common Dreams staff ·



Sunrise Movement Corrects Manchin: US 'Has Done More Than Any Other' to Cause—Not Solve—Climate Crisis

"Sen. Manchin is clearly drafting his climate plan with false information. At worst he's telling us lies given to him by his fossil fuel donors. At best, he's misinformed."

Brett Wilkins ·


Worst Polluters Spending Over Two Times More on Border Militarization Than on Climate Action

"Maybe, instead of spending a fortune to arm the borders, we should help the world transition to clean energy so people don't have to leave their homes."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo