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The Not-So-Hidden Agenda of Global Studies

Academic conferences showcase a field’s cutting-edge scholarship, which the professors in attendance can then incorporate into their classes. The agenda at the 2004 Global Studies Association conference speaks volumes at what’s occurring in classes in the faddish field of “Global Studies.”

Participants at this year’s “Global Studies” event heard a paper from Carl Davidson offering “perspective on how progressives can independently intervene in the election to defeat Bush in spite of the poor tactics from the Democratic leadership” in light of the fact that “the U.S. Government, at least over the past 50 years, has been the chief terrorist and sponsor of terrorism in the world.” Ed Green added it was not just Republicans, “Those who closely follow the role of the United States in the larger world are aware in recent times there have been quite a few episodes of torture inflicted by the U.S.” Renate Bridenthal demanded “militant action” to restore open admissions and remedial education at CUNY’s senior colleges, abolition of which reflected “the direct cost to education of the prison-industrial-military complex.” Most of the conference’s 14 other papers—summarizing, again, the latest thinking in the field—reflected similar points of view.

In contemporary higher education, advocates of one-sided curricular initiatives frequently mask their agendas by using code words or phrases. The phrase “Global Studies” represents a perfect example: who, after all, could oppose students learning more about international matters in an increasingly globalized world? It’s clear what sort of instruction students around the country receive in classes based on the themes from the “Global Studies” conference. Academic content is replaced by an openly partisan and ideological message.

One fact making this possible is the fact that there are no reputable graduate programs that award degrees in “Global Studies.” The most fully developed “Global Studies” department, at St. Lawrence University, openly imposes an ideological litmus test for new hires, who must be familiar “with the theoretical debates surrounding area, global, development; ethnic, native, or post-colonial studies,” fields known for their strong ideological bias.

A sense of what a typical “Global Studies” class entails comes in a “capstone” course at California State University-Monterey Bay, which established one of the nation’s first “Global Studies” departments, in 1995.

The course, fantastically, promises students “a smooth transition into postgraduate training in schools with disciplinary focus on politics and economics.” The reading list offers a clearer sense of what this “Global Studies” offering actually accomplishes. Assigned books include:

Joel Andreas, Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism
Chuck Collins, Economic Apartheid in America
Marian A. Ferber and Julie A. Nelson, Feminist Economics Today.

The “intent of this course,” Professor Robina Bhatti states, “is that a better understanding of global political economy will lead to an improvement in the rationality and justice of our everyday life.” Students’ grades are based on the professor’s “measurements” of their progress in achieving this goal.

In other words: students are graded on their fidelity to the political agenda of the professor and the openly biased assigned texts.

Most of the roughly two dozen colleges and universities with “Global Studies” programs have imitated Monterey Bay’s approach: with the exceptions of three (Ripon, Brandeis, and Cal.-Santa Barbara), “Global Studies” departments exclude offerings in politics, diplomacy, the law, business, religion, and intellectuals in the United States and Western Europe. Instead, they focus on courses oriented towards race, class, gender, and cultural studies, often containing obvious biases against the Western heritage or contemporary U.S. foreign policy. Despite the concept’s grand title, “Global Studies” classes rarely explore material before the 20th century. Nor, despite the mantra of training students in “intercultural communication,” do most “Global Studies” programs require language instruction: foreign language courses provide no clear path for indoctrination.

Mission College’s program, for instance, claims to provide students with the tools necessary for “making intelligent decisions as global citizens.” The courses’ goals include making students understand “that all earth’s people face the same global challenges despite the diverse traditions, values and practices they may have” and “core civic values which generate socially responsible behavior at both the local and global level.”

Like most institutions that sponsor “Global Studies” programs, the college refuses to concede that people of good faith define the values that “generate socially responsible behavior at both the local and global level” in very different ways. Instead, “Global Studies” programs assume that there can be only one path to generating “socially responsible behavior at both the local and global level”—the left-wing political agenda championed by “Global Studies” faculty, who are, as the St. Lawrence model indicates, chosen after passing ideological litmus tests.

The national academic organization that has most aggressively promoted the “Global Studies” approach is the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). The AAC&U’s most controversial undertaking was the “Arts of Democracy,” a 2003-2004 initiative that looked to “generate new knowledge about Global Studies.”

This “new knowledge” came in one-sided courses such as those at the Rochester Institute of Technology, which organized its “Arts of Democracy” classes around explorations of the “Western veil of ignorance” and the “apartheid” of globalization. Students (along the lines of the Monterey Bay model) were graded in part through journal entries “about involvement in social-advocacy groups.” (Emphasis added.) Ironically, taxpayers paid for the program: the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education awarded AAC&U a grant totaling more than $600,000.

Provost Roberta S. Matthews brought an “Arts of Democracy” course cluster to my own school, Brooklyn College, where Ms. Matthews has called for making the “Arts of Democracy” program the core of a new “Global Studies” department. Such an undertaking, she maintained, will help make Brooklyn undergraduates “global citizens.” To clarify the concept, Ms. Matthews unintentionally revealed the code, asserting that “global”—as opposed, apparently, to American—citizens are those sensitized to “concepts of race, class, and gender.”

Under this definition, “Global Studies” courses don’t have to be “global” at all. They only need to convey what the AAC&U describes as a central tenet of the “New Academy”: recognition of “persistent inequalities and injustices in the United States” and a willingness to meet these problems by subscribing to the AAC&U’s political agenda. Along these lines, Brooklyn’s Dean of Student Life, Milga Morales, argued that a “Global Studies” curriculum would address blatantly prejudicial questions related to the 9/11 attacks—attacks committed, she cryptically noted, by “those referred to as ‘terrorists.’” Such questions included, “Was September 11 contrived?”; “What did the United States government know and when did it know it?”; and “Whose rights would be violated now?”

The globe in “Global Studies” departments contains exclusively negative attitudes toward one country (other than the United States): Israel. This year, St. Lawrence’s “Global Studies” major featured a special seminar on Palestinian activist and theorist Edward Said. The department also has a regular offering entitled, “Why Do ‘They’ Hate ‘Us’?” The instruction situates the 9/11 attacks “in several thematic contexts,” focused on a critique “of US involvement in the Middle East.”

Students in a “Global Studies” course called “Palestinian Identities,” finally, are introduced to Palestinian identification “as a political and cultural community as they continue to struggle to free themselves from Israeli domination.” The course concludes with a forced political activity: “using what we have learned,” Professor John Collins notes, “we organize and produce a public activity of some sort; with the goal of educating the community about the importance of understanding what Edward Said has called ‘the question of Palestine.’”

An objective portrayal of Israeli history, politics, or culture will not be found in a “Global Studies” course. That might be one reason why the Middle East Studies Association—representing a field that has come under increasing attack for its open bias against U.S. and Israeli foreign policy in the Middle East—advocated at its 2003 conference positioning Middle East studies in the context of “Global Studies.” MESA’s apparent rationale: since both “Global Studies” and “Middle East studies” courses are inherently biased against Israel, it makes sense to promote “Global Studies” offerings, since those have received less critical outside scrutiny.

With the increasingly globalized economy and the transnational threat posed by the war on terror, college graduates need to understand more about the international environment in which they live. “Global Studies” departments, however, provide scant, if any, useful knowledge. Instead, students subjected to such courses receive warmed-over ideas from discredited 1960s radicalism. This “discipline” is nothing more than a forum for professors to structure classes around their political beliefs. In fact, a traditional liberal arts education provides students with the best preparation for functioning in the 21st century world. Colleges also already cover such topics as international relations, the global economy, foreign cultures, and intercultural communication in Departments of History, Economics, Political Science, Modern Languages, and Philosophy. Parents, trustees, and state legislators might want to find other uses for the funds that they are currently providing to “Global Studies” institutions.

This article was first published at frontpagemag.com.