President McRobbie

In global era, cuts don't translate well

Note: The following op-ed appeared in the Indianapolis Star on Aug. 19, 2011.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, not a single university in the United States regularly taught courses in Pashto, a language widely spoken in Afghanistan.

Today, as result of a commitment by the federal government to increase support for foreign language and culture studies over the past decade, especially in regions of strategic interest to the United States, six universities teach Pashto.

I'm proud to say that Indiana University is among those that offer courses in Pashto, as well as in many other less commonly taught languages and cultures that are becoming increasingly important as the world shrinks. IU offers courses in more than 80 foreign languages—among the most in the nation.

IU also is home this year to nearly 7,000 international students, boasts one of the top study-abroad programs and houses world-class international-focused departments such as our Central Asian studies program.

Given IU's leadership in these vital areas, I was particularly concerned by the last-minute funding cut to the U.S. Department of Education's budget for international education and foreign language studies programs.

The $50 million cut from these programs, collectively known as Title VI, represents a 40 percent reduction in funding and imperils vital areas of study and research in international affairs. As a result of the cuts, IU experienced a $1.7 million decrease in Title VI funding.

No university in the country has more Title VI programs than IU, which is why I recently co-authored a letter to Congress, signed by more than 80 university presidents, urging that these ill-advised cuts be rescinded in the 2012 federal budget.

As markets become more global and the interdependencies among countries become greater, developing globally fluent students is essential.

For decades, IU has been a leader in international education and research, preparing students to effectively compete on the global stage.

Title VI funding supports students and faculty working in areas such as African studies, Central Asian languages, Middle Eastern cultures and international business education and research.

Everyone at IU is acutely aware that we live in difficult economic times, which call for our leaders to make tough decisions to ensure that the public's money is spent wisely. At the same time, Title VI programs have consistently demonstrated that a relatively modest government investment yields great returns in terms of meeting this country's diplomatic and international workforce needs.

Distinguished IU alumni who have benefited from Title VI programs while students at IU include former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins.

These programs have made a lasting impact and play an increasingly central role in our understanding of strategically important regions of the world. Restoring Title VI funding to at least 2010 levels is essential to continuing that critical work.