Education Department opens investigation into foreign ties at Harvard and Yale

Nellie Chapman
February 14, 2020

Since July 2019, colleges and universities have reported about $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money, the agency said.

It comes amid a clamp down on foreign funding to academic institutions.

The department accused the universities as well as others as 'multi-billion dollar, multi-national enterprises using opaque foundations, foreign campuses, and other sophisticated legal structures to generate revenue'.

Universities are required by law to disclose contributions from foreign entities that are worth $250,000 or more.

Earlier this month, the chairman of Harvard's chemistry department and two Chinese researchers were charged with making false statements about ties to the Chinese government. Lieber also allegedly lied to Pentagon investigators about his participation in the "Thousand Talents Plan", a Chinese government global program to lure high-level scientists into bringing their knowledge and experience to China and reward them for stealing proprietary information.

The letter also asked for any records for such deals with Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE, and Kaspersky Lab and Skolkovo Foundation of Russian Federation.

A spokesperson from Yale's office of public affairs and communications provided a statement to Fox News, saying: "Yesterday, Yale received a Department of Education request for records of certain gifts and contracts from foreign sources under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965".

Yale may not have disclosed at least US$375 million (S$521 million) over the past four years, and Harvard may lack appropriate controls to track money it receives, the department said in a statement on Wednesday.

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The WSJ reported a February 11 letter to Harvard published by the DOE website, which cited the Lieber case and demanded that Harvard disclose its records of donations from and contracts with China, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp.; Russia's Kaspersky Lab and Skolkovo Foundation, and the Alavi Foundation of Iran, among others.

If the schools refuse to disclose the information, the Education Department can refer the matter to the Justice Department, which could pursue civil or criminal actions.

Federal officials have alleged that colleges and universities are "actively soliciting" foreign funds, some of which come from donors "known to be hostile to the United States". Yale filed no reports on foreign gifts or contracts between 2014 and 2017. "We are pleased that the Department of Education is increasing enforcement efforts and taking a step towards ensuring academic freedom in America".

Last year, the department also sent letters to Georgetown University, Texas A&M University, Cornell University, Rutgers University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland.

The department said that Yale may have failed to report at least $375m in foreign funding. Yale is among the schools that have been singled out in a Department of Education investigation.

Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said the university is reviewing the request and preparing to respond.

He added: "You have asked the Department to 'work with the higher education community to...balance the interests of transparency and the complicated nature of reporting.' There is no statutory basis for any such 'balance'".

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