National Resource Centers that focus on area studies, like Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, have faced a series of federal budget cuts that seems likely to continue.
Funded by federal grants through Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965 evaluated on a four-year basis, National Resource Centers are centers at private and public universities that offer graduate degrees and language instruction focused on specific regions of the world.
Title VI provides funds for foreign language and area studies scholarships, adjunct professors with region-specific knowledge, region-focused events and community outreach.
In the last cycle, which began in 2010, these centers saw a 49 percent cut in funding, a drop from $34 million to $18 million. In comparison, the Department of Education’s discretionary budget, which also includes funding for these centers, totals more than $68 billion. Last spring’s sequester, or automatic federal budget cuts, caused another 5 percent cut.
A Council of National Resource Center Directors survey recently reported that 28 percent of polled institutions had to cancel language classes, with 84 percent of these institutions unable to find a way to attain additional sources to make up for the lost funds.
At Georgetown, three of the university’s six area studies centers are Title VI National Resource Centers: CCAS, CERES and the East Asia National Resource Center. The East Asia National Resource Center was in the development process around the time of the 2010 cuts, and its offerings were altered accordingly.
Across CCAS and CERES, 10 courses were defunded entirely; an additional two courses had their funding coverage severely slashed. Seven paid positions became unfunded, 10 positions had their funding coverage reduced and three positions were completely eliminated because the loss in funding could not be reimbursed elsewhere. Travel funding, often used for invited speakers, was slashed by 95 percent. Funding for acquiring books, publications and money for paying speakers’ fees faced similar cuts.
The next round of Title VI grant applications will be released later this year. Those funds are also subject to possible further cuts.
CERES Director Angela Stent noted that the current political climate is increasing the likelihood of these cuts.
“The real problem is that there has been this coalition between Republicans in the House, who haven’t necessarily wanted to support international education, and then people in the [Department of Education], who feel the money should go to less well-served populations,” Stent said.
Furthermore, in the area of international affairs research, the methodology of area studies has received less attention and focus in recent years. According to BMW Center for German and European Studies Director Jeffrey Anderson, the study of international affairs is becoming increasingly global in nature, rather than focusing on specific regions.
“Area studies is at risk of being neglected, because at the moment, political science is getting more quantitative, focused on more global issues and there is a strong tendency to not pay attention to countries and regions of the world,” Anderson said.
The cuts, coupled with this intellectual shift, have diminished most schools’ focus on area studies. Nevertheless, Georgetown’s dedication to the regional component of international affairs remains strong, despite the cuts in funding.
According to Anderson, graduate-level area studies programs have had steady application numbers and consistently enroll approximately 40 students each year.
In addition, Georgetown relies on additional sources of funds, such as private donors like Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, whose donation formed the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding or organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation and BMW.
“We are almost unique in this area. Regional studies have always had a strong presence here at the School of Foreign Service, and that, coupled with language instruction, which we excel at, sets us apart from a lot of places,” Anderson said. “We are convinced that this is not the only way to deliver international affairs education, but a good way to do it.”
Moreover, while American scholars are turning away from a region-centric approach to international affairs, demand for regional studies in the international community is growing. An International Studies Quarterly study, “What Do Policymakers Want From Us?” to be published in December 2014, surveyed top officials from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Department of Defense to determine which social science disciplines they found to be most useful for international affairs research. Area studies topped the charts, with 70 percent of respondents rating the subject as very useful.
Stent agreed with the results of the study, referencing her years of experience in government work.
“When you work in the government, you need people who know practical things, not number crunching,” Stent said. “For that, you need deep area knowledge.”
As a result, some faculty members are optimistic about the future of the discipline.
“I suspect Georgetown is in a position to lead to a renaissance in area studies,” Center for Latin American Studies Director Marc Chernick said. “I think many universities are revisiting the ideas of having regional specialists.”
Georgetown is considering holding a conference during the 2014-2015 academic year to promote the importance of area studies.