GOP Senators Want US Universities to Be Transparent About Foreign Donations

February 14, 2020 Updated: February 15, 2020
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Republican Senators reintroduced legislation that would require U.S. universities to disclose all large foreign donations made to their institutions, called the Foreign Influence Transparency Act. This bill was created in large part as a response to the Chinese government’s Confucius Institutes (CI).

U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton’s (R-Ariz.) bill amends the Higher Education Act and requires organizations like China’s CIs to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Since 2004, China has been funding CI language programs under the communist regime’s Ministry of Education which forms partnerships with American universities. In the United States, CI is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise and has branches across American campuses.

“The American people should know when they are dealing with an agent of a foreign government, and this legislation will bring greater transparency to the activities of foreign nations operating in the United States,” Rubio said.

“By forcing agents of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice, this legislation would close loopholes in current law that allow the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate our colleges and universities through Confucius Institutes.”

Senator Portman said that U.S. schools neglected to report $6.5 billion in foreign funding. The Ohio Senator wants the public to know who influences their universities.

“I am pleased to join Senators Rubio and Cotton in reintroducing this important legislation to increase transparency on our college and university campuses concerning foreign funding,” Portman said.

“China has routinely exploited this lack of transparency by controlling, funding, and staffing Confucius Institutes at campuses across our country … We cannot allow this stunning lack of transparency to continue.”

Senator Cotton said that students deserve to know what influences are at play on their campuses.

“If we want free speech and honest debate on college campuses, then we need to know when other countries are pushing their interests on U.S. soil,” Cotton said.

Senator Portman as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) released a bipartisan report in February 2019 detailing the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage CIs.

The report exposed the fact that the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of the CI including funding, staffing, and programming. It found that there are 1,000 CI classrooms around the world with 500 in the United States.

The report said the Staff of the CI pledge to “conscientiously safeguard national interests” and their contract terminates if they “violate Chinese law” or “engage in activities detrimental to national interests.”

The PSI’s report also found that the Department of Education does not conduct regular oversight of U.S. universities to determine the level of compliance with required foreign gift reporting.

While China expanded CIs in the United States, the investigation found that China does not reciprocate with the same degree of openness to allow U.S. officials and educators access to Chinese institutions.

In a Feb. 12 statement, the Education Department said that Yale University may have failed to disclose in its records $375 million in foreign funding over the past four years.

“This is about transparency,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “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.”