Two House Republican leaders are asking the Biden administration whether it has a plan to investigate China’s financial ties with American colleges and universities and counter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) economic influence in higher education.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Education Committee, and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who chairs the conservative caucus Republican Study Committee, said they are concerned that the Education Department is not taking the threat posed by the CCP seriously.
“Hostile governments and their instrumentalities have targeted the higher education sector for exploitation to infiltrate cutting-edge American research projects, influence curricula, and gain access to systems and information available through overseas ‘campuses’ that receive less rigorous oversight than their domestic counterparts,” Foxx and Banks wrote in a letter (pdf) to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “The American public deserves to know that their money is not being compromised by Communist China and other adversarial nations.”
Starting in 2019, the Education Department under then-Secretary Betsy DeVos heightened scrutiny to the enforcement of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, which requires colleges to report all gifts and contracts involving foreign sources valued at $250,000 or more. Those efforts led to an October 2020 reporting of approximately $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money including from China and Russia, as well as compliance investigations into 19 of the nation’s top universities.
The Education Department under Cardona, according to the Republicans, has so far made little progress to address that matter.
“The previous administration modernized the reporting process and found over $6.5 billion in unreported gifts and contracts and opened 19 university investigations,” they said in the letter. “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.”
Specifically, the two Republicans asked whether the Education Department has opened any new college investigations or issued any related subpoenas, or if it intends on completing the remaining 15 investigations initiated by the Trump administration.
In addition, they asked the department what the total amount of reported foreign gifts was through the reporting period ending in January, how many full-time staff members are working on Section 117 assessment, and what range of corrective measures it would use to force noncompliant schools to disclose foreign money.
The Republican leaders’ request comes as Congress considers the CONFUCIUS Act, which aims to reduce the influence Beijing could have on American college campuses that host CCP-sponsored Confucius Institutes. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month with unanimous approval.
“At universities across the U.S., the Chinese government is waging an influence and propaganda effort through its Confucius Institutes,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the bill. “Though ostensibly designed to promote cultural studies on college campuses, Confucius Institutes are an extension of the communist Chinese government and follow its dictates.”
Once over 100 at its peak, the number of Confucius Institutes in the United States has fallen to just about 50 as of May 2021, largely due to pressure from the Trump administration in the past two years.