Media Contact

Molly Rivera, 919-438-0492 or [email protected]

September 27, 2019

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina today sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanding she end her Department’s politicized investigation into Duke University and the University of North Carolina’s joint Middle East Studies program. The Department of Education is threatening to cut the program’s federal funding if the universities do not submit plans to remake the program to the Department’s satisfaction. Among other things, the administration takes issue with the program placing “considerable emphasis” on the “positive aspects of Islam.”

The ACLU is also demanding the Department of Education turn over all records related to its decision to threaten Duke and UNC, and any similar threats the Department may have made to other institutions.

“Academic freedom is a bedrock principle of higher education,” said Karen Anderson, Executive Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “The Trump administration’s attempt to inject its long pattern of anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination into our universities represents a significant threat to any academic program that fails to toe the line on the government's anti-Muslim agenda.”

In its letter, the ACLU notes that Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which authorizes federal funding for international studies and foreign language programs, does not permit the Department to require educational institutions to espouse the government’s favored viewpoints or further this administration’s anti-Muslim and discriminatory agenda. Any assumed authority to attach such requirements threatens core constitutional principles protecting freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“The administration’s censorship efforts undermine academic freedom and have no factual or legal basis,” said Kate Ruane, Senior Legislative Counsel for the ACLU. “The administration should instead be focused on rooting out the deep-seated anti-Muslim bigotry within its own ranks.”

Copies of the ACLU’s letter were also delivered to the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which oversee the Department of Education’s funding and policies.

The ACLU’s demand letter is here:

The FOIA request is here: