ED Finds Over $6.5 Billion in Undisclosed Foreign Gifts

David Acevedo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.

CounterCurrent: Week of 10/25

The U.S. Department of Education (ED), led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, has continued apace in its efforts to contain foreign influence in American higher education. While much of this work has been focused on influence from the Chinese Communist Party specifically—including through Confucius Institutes, Confucius Classrooms, and “talent-recruitment” programs—China is by no means the only culprit. Indeed, many nations, particularly within the Middle East, flood American institutions with dark money through opaque, and sometimes completely secret, financial agreements.

Of course, American colleges and universities are not victims here. Many are more than happy to receive these funds, as well as the benefits that come with them, and some are even more eager to hide them from the federal government. The time to crack down on this rampant disregard for the law is decades overdue, and it appears that Secretary DeVos is up to the task.

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, codified as 20 USC 1011f, states the following:

Whenever any institution is owned or controlled by a foreign source or receives a gift from or enters into a contract with a foreign source, the value of which is $250,000 or more, considered alone or in combination with all other gifts from or contracts with that foreign source within a calendar year, the institution shall file a disclosure report.

The statute goes on to state that, when it seems that an institution has failed to comply, then the Attorney General may take action to compel disclosure through the courts. However, ED has no way of knowing which schools comply and which do not if enforcement of the law itself is virtually nonexistent, which it has been since the HEA was initially passed—until DeVos’ new investigations, that is.

Last week, ED released a new report, titled Institutional Compliance with Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which details “the massive failure of many colleges and universities to disclose more than $6.5 billion in funding and resources from foreign sources including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.” [emphasis added]

This report follows an extensive and ongoing series of investigations launched in July 2019. The full report and a bevy of supplemental documents may be found here. In the accompanying press release, DeVos is quoted as saying

“The threat of improper foreign influence in higher education is real. Our action today ensures that America’s students, educators, and taxpayers can follow the money … Transparency in foreign funding of higher education is not just something I think is a good thing; it’s the law. For too long, enforcement of that law was lax, but not anymore.”

“Four decades of pervasive noncompliance,” as the release puts it, is four decades too many. The National Association of Scholars commends Secretary DeVos and ED for their important work, and we urge them to continue in their investigations and much-needed reform of the HEA.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Christine Roy, Public Domain

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