The University of North Carolina and Duke University face losing federal funding if they fail to revise their joint Middle East studies program, The Hill reported on Thursday, because the Trump administration has deemed their program too friendly toward Islam.
In an August 29 letter to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, the Department of Education said the program disproportionately focuses on “the positive aspects of Islam.”
If the schools fail to comply with the administration’s request for a revision by September 22, they will lose a federal grant from the National Resource Center that they have received for nearly a decade.
The grant is offered to programs that support foreign language learning, The Hill noted, but the Education Department said foreign language has "taken a back seat to other priorities" that are not relevant to the grant.
Further, the letter states, the program involves an outsized emphasis on “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.”
A spokesperson for the department told The Hill that it is “patently false” to say the review is due to the schools’ positive take on Islam.
"We're reviewing UNC-Duke's use of grant funds because we are concerned that they have not followed congressional requirements for the program — that students must learn a foreign language and hear diverse regional perspectives,” the spokesperson said, adding, "Our inquiry has nothing to do with their program having an Islamic bias.”
The department’s investigation was sparked by a letter from Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in which the lawmaker complained the program held a conference with "severe anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric."