Lawmakers Demand 6 Universities, Including Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Disclose Their Foreign Funding

August 5, 2020 Updated: August 5, 2020

Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) have jointly sent a letter to six universities demanding that they submit records about their foreign funding.

The six universities are the University of Chicago, University of Delaware, Harvard University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), and Yale University. According to their letter dated Aug. 3, the schools must hand over “all unredacted records of gifts from, contracts, or contracts or agreements” with foreign sources since January 2015. They are to submit the records to the lawmakers before Aug. 10.

The three lawmakers made their requests “in light of transparency concerns and to help us better understand the foreign influence and investment in U.S. higher education.”

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 requires U.S. colleges and universities to report gifts from, and contracts with, any foreign source that are valued at $250,000 or more in a calendar year.

The three lawmakers specifically named five countries of concern for foreign funding: China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia.

For China, the lawmakers want to see records of funding from the Chinese government, Chinese Communist Party (CCP), state-affiliated organizations, any Chinese national, or any business primarily located in China.

Citing records from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the letter stated that the six universities have received tens of millions from the five countries since 2015. For example, UPenn declared 92 gifts or contracts totaling $62.2 million, Harvard declared 31 gifts or contracts totaling $101 million, while Yale declared 18 gifts or contracts totaling $22 million.

The DOE announced in February that after probes, it found that U.S. universities failed to report more than 6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money since July 2019.

The agency also said it launched investigations into Harvard and Yale, after it discovered that Yale may have failed to report at least $375 million in foreign gifts and contracts. The DOE also raised concerns about Harvard’s policies over foreign funding after the indictment of Charles Lieber, former chair of Harvard’s chemistry department.

Lieber, who was arrested in January, has been charged in relation to his participation in a Chinese state-run job recruitment program called the Thousand Talents Plan, whereby he was contracted to work for a Chinese university—without disclosing such ties to federal authorities.

The talent program was rolled out by Beijing in 2008 to recruit promising science and tech researchers from foreign countries to work in China—for the ultimate goal of fulfilling its ambition for global tech dominance.

In May, online news site The College Fix reported that attorneys for universities currently under DOE investigation were claiming exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act to prevent Congress from obtaining documents about schools’ ties with China.

The three lawmakers also wrote in the letter that they were concerned about many countries using donations or contract agreements to “leverage their money into some type of benefit, or quid pro quo.”

The letter highlighted an example of how two U.S. universities that had contracts with China’s state-run Jilin University “defended the CCP” after media reports revealed that negligence at a lab in Wuhan may be the cause of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

These two universities “claimed those reports were false,” according to the letter. The lawmakers didn’t name the schools.

Comer is a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Jordan is a ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary. Foxx is a ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer