This is not a blog about American politics. Hence, I bet you are wondering why I plan to write about the US budget and how it affects us all at the Kevorkian Center. The answer lies in the fact that one of the victims of the bipartisan budget deal struck between President Obama and House Republicans last April happens to be Title VI of the Higher Education Act. According to this report, the deal cuts funding for Title VI by 40%, reducing the total amount of funds from $126 million to $76 million.
Title VI is the Department of Education program that funds Language Resource Centers across the United States, including New York University's Kevoriakian Center for Near Eastern Studies. This pool of money also funds the FLAS fellowships, which allow so many of us to pursue advanced level study in languages like Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. So many of us at the Kevorkian Center have benefiited enormously from FLAS fellowships. Not only do they facilitate language study during the regular academic year at NYU, they also allow many of us to study during the summer in the Middle East. As anyone who has tried to learn Arabic can attest, there is no way to reach a genuine level of advanced proficiency if you don't spend time living and studying amidst native speakers. Furthermore, the cost of independently financing language study halfway around the world makes these generous fellowships an absolute necessity for many of us.
It baffles me that lawmakers have chosen to cut these programs, practically rolling them back to pre-2001 levels. Out of all the things in the 2011 budget - which tops $3 trillion - why cut programs that give such tangible material assistance to graduate students learning languages like Arabic and Persian? Graduate school would literally be out of reach for many students without this funding. Here's to hoping that the Obama administration increases this funding in the fiscal year 2012 budget, which begins October 1st. If these levels become the new normal, lots of area studies programs and graduate students will be in serious trouble.