The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is pleased to see the introduction of the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2018, sponsored by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. This bill would address the problem of Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes and other sources of foreign interference in American higher education.
For the last year, NAS has raised concerns about the Chinese government’s use of Confucius Institutes to infiltrate American colleges and universities. Our 2017 report, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, found that more than 100 American colleges and universities have set up Confucius Institutes funded and largely staffed by the Chinese government. These Institutes stifle academic freedom, teach a whitewashed version of China, and entangle colleges and universities in a web of financial relationships that leave them dependent on the Chinese government. NAS has called for all colleges and universities to cut ties with Confucius Institutes at once.
Senator Cruz’s new bill would address a related issue, the efforts by foreign governments and agents to use American higher education to spy and steal sensitive information. The bill deals with an issue that FBI Director Christopher Wray raised before the US Senate in February: the Chinese government’s use of Confucius Institutes and other “nontraditional collectors” to gather intelligence.
The Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act would require the FBI to create a list of “foreign intelligence threats to higher education” (or FITHEs). Any entity so designated would be subject to additional transparency requirements. In line with NAS’s recommendations (and similar to the Foreign Influence Transparency Act, introduced in March), colleges and universities would have to report to the Secretary of Education any gifts from a FITHE in excess of $50,000 over the course of a year, including the fair-market value of any in-kind gifts.
Senator Cruz’s bill is tailored to hone in on those foreign actors with subversive purposes. It defines a “foreign intelligence threat to higher education” as a foreign actor that engages in espionage, visa fraud, theft of trade secrets, terrorism, and certain other related efforts. And it defines “foreign actor” as a foreign government or political organization, faction of a foreign nation, partnership supervised or subsidized by a foreign government, or any individual who acts as an agent of a foreign government or organization. The bill also creates a process for entities designated as FITHEs to contest their designation.
The Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act would hold foreign agents accountable and help colleges and universities distinguish between innocent and nefarious foreign gifts. The bill would also provide members of Congress and the public with greater transparency surrounding the actions of foreign agents working to infiltrate higher education.
The National Association of Scholars thanks Senator Cruz for this strong bill.