Congress debating bill to enhance studies

WASHINGTON – Congress is considering legislation that would provide grants to colleges to promote programs in Western Civilization and American history education as a way to improve educational quality in those subject areas.

The Higher Education for Freedom Act was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Thomas E. Petri, R-Wis., and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., with the purpose to sustain postsecondary education programs that deal with traditional American history, the American founding, and Western civilization. The bills, H.R. 2858 and S.B. 1209, are currently in education committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The monetary grants permitted under the bills would allow colleges to create programs aimed increasing the numbers of students and quality of instruction in Western civilization and American history. The legislation would assist academic centers, institutions and programs that offer courses, research, sponsor lectures, or develop teaching materials in Western civilization or U.S. history.

Specifically, the grants would allow colleges’ in teaching preparation programs in U.S. history and Western civilization. The grants could also be used to strengthen current programs through the design of new courses and programs, research, and graduate and postgraduate fellowships.

Grants ranging from $400,000 to $6 million could be awarded to qualifying colleges and universities. A total of $140 million is being requested in the 2006 fiscal year budget. The grants would be made and administered through the Department of Education.

Neither bill has been brought up for consideration in its respective committees. However, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has a hearing scheduled for June 30 on the quality of U.S. history education. At least four witnesses are scheduled to testify during the hearing to discuss the current condition of U.S. history education.

Gregg said the reason for the legislation is that few universities are focused on historical concepts, which has caused a lack of historical literacy among college students.

“Today, more than ever, we must focus on preserving our nation’s history and ensuring that future generations of Americans understand the importance of free government on which this nation was founded,” Gregg said.

National Association of Scholars President Steve Balch in a letter to supporters encouraged the bill’s passage, saying that it has the potential to promote “a sea of change in the academic climate.”

“It would encourage the development en masse of new post-secondary programming focused on such subjects as American political and constitutional history, the study of free institutions, and the study of Western civilization,” Balch wrote.

Petri and Gregg’s legislation comes at a time when debate has occurred within the University of North Carolina community on the development of a Western civilization program. Throughout the school year, the UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences worked with the John W. Pope Foundation about possibly funding a program in Western civilization at the school. No final decision has been reached regarding that proposal.

A copy of H.R. 2858 can be found here. Senate Bill 1209 can be viewed here.

Shannon Blosser ( is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.