Trump administration demands UNC, Duke revise joint Middle East studies program

The U.S. said the program unfairly promotes "the positive aspects of Islam."

The Department of Education has ordered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University to remodel their joint Middle East studies program, alleging that it inappropriately uses federal grants to advance "ideological priorities" and that the curriculum does not spend enough time highlighting "positive" imagery of Christianity and Judaism.

An Aug. 29 letter from the Education Department demanded that the universities revise the curriculum of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies by Sept. 22 or risk losing federal funding.

The federal government helps pay for programs at dozens of universities to support foreign language instruction, according to the Associated Press.

"It seems clear foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken 'a back seat' to other priorities at the Duke-UNC CMES," the letter said.

In a statement to ABC News, a UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson said: "The Consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program. In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the Consortium is committed to working with the Department to provide more information about its programs."

A spokesperson from Duke University declined to comment directly and referred ABC News back to UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Education Department was asked in April to look into the universities' joint program by Republican North Carolina Rep. George Holding, who claimed he'd seen "reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at a taxpayer-funded conference."

In a letter responding to Holding in June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she was "troubled" by Holdings' concerns and has directed the Office of Postsecondary Education to "examine the use of funds under this program."

"The Department of Education's findings paint a deeply troubling picture," Holding tweeted Friday. "The Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies' use of federal taxpayer funds to promote a biased, ideologically driven agenda is irresponsible and immoral."

The Education Department said in the letter the program places "a considerable emphasis" on the "understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East."

The universities have been instructed to provide a "revised schedule of activities" for the next year and to explain how each offering promotes foreign language learning and advances national security interest.