House Republican leaders demanded that the Biden Education Department say whether it intends to enforce the law related to foreign funding on campus and crackdown on Chinese Communist Party influence at U.S. colleges and campuses.
Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and Virginia Foxx, ranking member on the House Education Committee, sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday “to express concern and request information regarding the Department of Education’s administration of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, which requires higher education institutions to disclose large gifts and contracts from overseas sources to the Department” because “the American public deserves to know that their money is not being compromised by Communist China and other adversarial nations.”
The Education Department declined in May to weigh in on investigations into foreign funding on campuses initiated by the Trump administration when asked by the Washington Examiner. Department officials wouldn’t comment on possible future inquiries after Trump officials increased pressure on China.
The United States has ramped up efforts in recent years to confront China, including the Justice Department’s China Initiative; the blacklisting of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and other CCP-linked entities as national security threats; and a crackdown on Confucius Institutes, the Thousand Talents Program, and other Chinese influence operations.
The Education Department under the Biden administration has been largely mum on the issue.
The Trump Education Department conducted an expansive investigation beginning in 2019 into the influence of the Chinese Communist Party and other foreign funding on campuses nationwide, asking universities to share a host of documents about foreign gifts and connections to the CCP. The department singled out 19 different universities by the time former President Donald Trump left office, but the inquiries might now be in limbo.
“Information about these financial arrangements gives both Congress and the federal government valuable insight into possible security risks and conflicts of interest posed by foreign governments’ financial ties to U.S. colleges and universities … Moreover, in 2018, the federal government invested $149 billion of taxpayer funds in colleges and universities,” Banks and Foxx wrote. “The FBI warned colleges a decade ago about how hostile actors use campuses for spying, propaganda hubs, and faculty recruitment. Unfortunately, too many institutions failed to take this warning seriously.”
The GOP representatives said the Trump administration “modernized the reporting process and found over $6.5 billion in unreported gifts and contracts” and “opened 19 university investigations.”
They added, “However, the Department has closed only four of those investigations to date. Moreover, you have not started or provided status updates on any other investigations into foreign gifts or contracts. We are concerned by these facts, considering it was conveyed to Congress that career civil servants at the Department and other agencies were supportive of Section 117 compliance and oversight.”
“Examples of the threats posed by our adversaries to American universities are well documented. Confucius Institutes, once present at hundreds of American universities and colleges, have been used by Communist China to control curriculum, censor political debate, and oversee teacher hiring, event selection, and speaker engagements,” Banks and Foxx wrote. “For decades, colleges and universities failed to comply with statutory transparency requirements.”
Mike Pompeo and Betsy DeVos, who were secretary of state and education secretary, respectively, during the Trump administration, joined forces in October to warn K-12 classrooms and universities nationwide are being targeted by Chinese influence operations.
The Washington Examiner asked the Education Department in May about whether it would continue the Trump administration’s investigations into Chinese influence on U.S. campuses and what Cardona's concerns were about China’s influence at U.S. schools were, but the department did not provide specifics.
“Institutions of higher education are required to report to the Department on certain foreign gifts and contracts, and this is an important measure in ensuring transparency and preventing improper foreign influence. Under the Biden administration, the Department has continued to carry out its statutory duties, including by collecting reports IHEs are required to file and making data publicly available,” an Education Department spokesperson said in May, pointing to the online portal. “The Department continues to assess how it can best address foreign influence issues in higher education while realizing the benefits of appropriately managed international partnerships. The Department declines to comment on active and potential investigations.”
When asked whether the Biden Education Department agreed with warnings in October 2020 from Pompeo and DeVos about the national security challenge posed by China, the spokesperson directed the Washington Examiner back to its initial statement.
“The Department must enforce the law and coordinate with other federal agencies to defend citizens from security threats. As Congress debates legislation to counter the threats posed by China and other adversarial nations, your commitment to carrying out the law is critical. The lack of progress we have seen on this issue since your confirmation as Secretary is alarming, and we are concerned the Department is not treating threats from China and other adversarial nations seriously," Banks and Foxx said on Wednesday.
DeVos released a report in October that included warnings that U.S. university partnerships with foreign adversaries, most notably China, could pose a risk to national security. Last summer, the Education Department revealed that schools had anonymized $8.4 billion in foreign money, and since 2010, colleges and universities had “hidden the true source” of at least $600 million from China.
The House Republicans pressed Cardona on a series of questions, including whether the Biden Education Department has opened any college investigations or issued any related subpoenas or if the department intends on completing the 15 open investigations. It also asked what the total amount of reported foreign gifts was through the reporting period ending in January, how many full-time staff are investigating foreign gift disclosure requirements, and what range of corrective measures the department would use to force non-compliant schools to disclose their foreign funding.
Banks and Foxx also asked, “What interagency memberships are you working through and what agreements do you have in place to respond to potential adversarial nation security threats?”
They asked for responses within two weeks.
In May, a group of Republican senators also called upon Attorney General Merrick Garland not to implement an “amnesty program” they claimed the Justice Department was considering in the future, under which researchers at U.S. colleges and universities could disclose past foreign funding, including from China, without fear of prosecution.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy