Now is the time to demand accountability in America’s higher education institutions. Our national security depends on it.
As President Biden takes office, America faces a new chapter in the China challenge, a major part of which involves protecting American higher education.
China’s Thousand Talents Plan has ensnared thousands of American scholars and researchers, including former Harvard University professor and Chemistry Chair Charles Lieber, indicted in June by the Justice Department for lying about China’s $50,000 monthly payments to him in exchange for research expertise.
Confucius Institutes — campus centers run by the Chinese government — spread propaganda and serve as nodes in China’s soft power campaign. What’s more, China’s People’s Liberation Army has sent some 2,500 military officers undercover as graduate students in Western universities, including in the United States.
While Biden hasn’t commented directly on Confucius Institutes, China Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda mouthpiece, is already calling for him to begin “correcting” the Trump administration’s “fearmongering of the Confucius Institute.”
Meanwhile, Biden’s pick for United Nations ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spent a large portion of her confirmation hearing attempting to backpedal her paid speech at a Confucius Institute in 2019. Thomas-Greenfield had spoken optimistically of “Big Brother China” investing in Africa and modeling for African nations the path from poverty to an industrialized economy.
With American higher education vulnerable to foreign interference, one fundamentally necessary policy is transparency. We need transparency from colleges and universities about any gifts they receive from foreign powers.
Transparency provides the sunlight that discourages colleges and universities from entering shady foreign deals in the first place. It affords the data that makes more targeted policies possible. It helps watchdogs, like my organization, the National Association of Scholars, distinguish benign from potentially pernicious foreign gifts. It permits the public to see what foreign money is flowing into their local college or alma mater and make informed decisions about where to send their kids, where to donate, or whether to enroll.
Since the 1980s, federal law has required colleges and universities to report gifts and contracts with foreign sources when they total $250,000 or more in a single calendar year. But this legal provision — called “Section 117” for its place in the Higher Education Act — was never enforced. As a result, colleges and universities racked up foreign benefactors, frequently behind closed doors in hush-hush deals. They routinely failed to file the legally required disclosures, sometimes going to elaborate lengths to avoid public scrutiny.
Two years ago, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos launched investigations into non-compliant universities — the first time any secretary had enforced Section 117 since President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1986. Colleges and universities began to [ … ]