The National Association of Scholars commends the Department of Education for its new guidance governing the disclosure of foreign gifts to colleges and universities, closely following recommendations we put forward. The new guidance, issued June 22 and covering the next round of disclosures from colleges and universities due July 31st, will help hold colleges and universities accountable while giving the public the information necessary to evaluate the foreign dependence of colleges and universities.
Federal law requires colleges and universities to disclose foreign gifts and contracts in excess of $250,000 per year. But until recently, colleges and universities have largely ignored their lawful duty to disclose these transactions. NAS has repeatedly called attention to the behavior of colleges and universities that compromise their core principles in order to attract and accommodate foreign benefactors. Our 2017 report, Outsourced to China, drew national attention to Confucius Institutes, Chinese government-funded campus centers that stifled intellectual freedom and projected Chinese soft power. Last year the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that foreign gifts are “effectively a black hole,” with nearly 70% of all colleges and universities whose Confucius Institutes cleared the $250,000 annual disclosure threshold failing to report those gifts.
We are pleased that the Department of Education has investigated noncompliant universities and stepped up enforcement of foreign gift disclosures. We applaud the Department for issuing updated guidance that implements a number of our recommendations, including requirements to name the foreign government or agency making a gift and to describe in detail any conditions or strings attached. The guidance also follows NAS’s suggestion to clarify that gifts from registered foreign agents should be disclosed, and that foreign gifts made to university foundations and other affiliated organizations are also subject to disclosure. This information helps to distinguish benign from potentially problematic foreign gifts.
We reiterate our call for Congress to update Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, the statute that authorizes the Department of Education to collect foreign gift disclosures. Congress should lower the threshold for disclosure to no more than $50,000 per donor per year, and should further require colleges to disclose the names of all foreign donors, not just of foreign government agencies.
The Department of Education has taken important steps within the bounds of existing federal law, and we applaud the Department of Education for these important updates to foreign gift disclosures.