The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Harvard and Yale for not reporting millions in foreign gifts and donations. Dr. Charles Lieber of Harvard was indicted for lying about his connection with China’s Thousand Talents Plan. Lieber also revealed the university did not have effective measures to regulate large donations. American universities accepting large sums of money from foreign countries is not a new phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Education said: “The Department’s records since approximately 1990 show U.S. universities and colleges have reported donations from Qatar, China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in excess of $6.6 billion, but this sum may be significantly underestimated.” The Department also claims that Yale specifically failed to report $375M in gifts and donations.
An alarming aspect of this situation is that the countries in question are political enemies of the United States who seek to gain power and influence through their donations. For example, the 2019 Senate Report found Hanban, a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, gave more than $15 million to 15 U.S. schools. Back in 2018, Politico reported that Hanban’s Confucius Institute was spreading Chinese propaganda in schools. The Confucius Institute is a program that claims to teach students Chinese language, culture, and history. However, the program ignores human rights abuses by the Chinese government such as the Tienanmen Square massacre. It also espouses the propagandist claim that Tibet and Taiwan belong to Mainland China. China is not the only country that threatens U.S. education, as investigations found Qatar advancing its own interests through donations, and one university having a relationship with the Russian company Kaspersky, a company which the U.S. government bans from making contracts.
We do not know the exact amount of foreign money coming into our universities, and thus do not know how much influence these foreign countries can gain. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sounded off on the matter:
“This is about transparency … If colleges and universities are accepting foreign money and gifts, their students, donors, and taxpayers deserve to know how much and from whom. Moreover, it’s what the law requires. Unfortunately, the more we dig, the more we find that too many are underreporting or not reporting at all. We will continue to hold colleges and universities accountable and work with them to ensure their reporting is full, accurate, and transparent, as required by the law.”
The foreign donations to our universities should alarm all Americans; remote adversaries can definitely gain an advantage over us by making these connections. Universities might be teaching a distorted view of foreign policy due to their foreign ties. Overseas countries could also gain more power on the world stage by infiltrating our universities and spreading propaganda.