AMEWS Association for Middle East Women's Studies

AMEWS Letter in Support of Academic Freedom, Duke-UNC Consortium

September 24, 2019


Robert King
Assistant Secretary
Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202


Dear Mr. King,

The Association for Middle East Women’s Studies’ Human Rights Task Force supports the response by the Duke University-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies to a notice from the Office of the General Counsel, Department of Education. The “Notice of a Letter Regarding the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies,”published in the Federal Register, threatens to withdraw federal funding from the consortium unless it submits its programs and curricula for review and control.

This attempt to censor the programs and curricula of the CMES is an attack on academic freedom and on the humanities and social sciences in general. Academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of education in a free society. It includes the four essential freedoms of a university: to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study (“Academic Freedom of Professors and Institutions: The Current Legal Landscape,” Donna R. Euben, AAUP Counsel, May 2002). The attempt by a government agency to control the content of curricula must be resisted.

This threat to withdraw funding is part of a growing tendency in the United States to define higher education as something that primarily trains people for certain jobs. A liberal arts education is much more than job training. Higher education fosters intellectual inquiry and critical thinking. Allowing any government to dictate and censor the content of our education establishes a dangerous precedent that suggests a growing attempt to control how we think and what we do. In a free society this attempt must be challenged.

We support the well-reasoned response issued by the Duke University-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies and urge the Department of Education to support academic freedom in all of its endeavors.



Nancy Gallagher, Chair, AMEWS Human Rights Task Force
Professor Emerita, History
University of California, Santa Barbara


Angie Abdelmonem, PhD
NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty Associate
Global Technology and Development Program
School for the Future of Innovation in Society
Arizona State University


Sondra Hale
Research Professor and Professor Emerita
Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA


Anita H. Fábos
Professor, International Development, Community & Environment
Clark University


Nadje Al-Ali
Robert Family Professor of International Studies
Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies
Brown University