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Are American universities under foreign control?

The Critic – Paul du Quenoy reveals the unreported foreign investment in US universities.

It has been long known and increasingly suspect that American colleges and universities accept vast sums from foreign donors, and then, some argue, merrily do their governments’ bidding. Before you say, “There ought to be a law!,” the US Department of Education has reminded us that there is a law. Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 explicitly requires American institutions of higher education to declare foreign gifts or contracts exceeding a total of $250,000 per year. In Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s words, “transparency in foreign funding of higher education is not just something I think is a good thing; it’s the law. For too long, enforcement of that law was lax, but not anymore.”

DeVos is not kidding. Violating Section 117 can invite not only Education Department investigation, but also, upon referral, civil claims brought by the US Justice Department. Individuals who conceal or falsify actions governed by the law are subject to criminal sanctions, including fines and imprisonment. Judging by other recent DeVos initiatives, these are not idle threats. In early October the government sued Yale University for an alleged half century of discriminating on the basis of race in admissions. Just before that, Princeton was placed under investigation after its president stated in a strange, self-flagellating public letter – ironically meant to demonstrate his commitment to racial justice – that his university has “racist assumptions” that “remain embossed in structures of the university itself,” an apparent admission that Princeton operates in open violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. Dozens of other colleges and universities that have created women-only scholarships, programs, and facilities have been the subject of lengthy Education Department investigations brought under the original purpose of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was to guarantee equal gender access to university facilities but was recently magnified into a grotesque government mandate to police and discipline male romantic initiative on campus.

This week the Department of Education released a damning report revealing that US institutions have collectively accepted some $6.5 billion in foreign funds that were never reported. A Senate subcommittee studying this astonishing phenomenon calls the whole industry (and US higher education is an industry, if not a particularly useful or efficient one) a “black hole.” Among the 34-page document’s juicier tidbits, we find that virtually all the universities under investigation received funds from Huawei, the controversial Chinese technology company, which has poured research funds into nuclear science, online data systems, and robotics – all fields considered vital to US national security, and the fruits of which may now well be accessible to the Chinese government.

Two US universities with campuses in Qatar reportedly failed to disclose funds received from the Qatari Foundation, which then, the report further claims, exerted its influence to stifle free speech. Media reports hold that one of the Qatar campuses belongs to my alma mater, Georgetown University, which also stands accused in the report of accepting Saudi money via the philanthropic Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in the form of a $20 million gift to create a “Center of Muslim-Christian Understanding,” which then promoted a biased “particular narrative.” In 2017 one of its ace scholars, who holds an endowed chair in Islamic civilization also named for the prince, made public statements widely interpreted as favorable to slavery and marital rape. Stately Georgetown also seems to have entered into a foreign-funded exchange program with the Party School of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee. Another US institution with a campus in Qatar, identified in the media as Cornell University, has reportedly explained that is was “dumbfounded” by an “error” that resulted in its failure to report a whopping $760 million in foreign funds. Still another institution accepted a more modest but far from insignificant gift from Kaspersky Government Security Solutions, a cybersecurity company believed to have ties to the Russian government, whose products are banned from US government use.

In a world now suffused with both Republican and Democratic versions of RussiaGate, a farcical impeachment over alleged but unproved quid pro quos in Ukraine, and now influence peddling accusations that will just not leave reformed crack addict Hunter Biden alone and may well poison his father’s possible presidency, a gaggle of slimy university administrators sticking their snouts into troughs of foreign money without telling the government might not demand the same sensational headlines.

But in our current age, are those corpulent academic titans (let us face it: they usually are severely overweight) not supposed to be the moral guardians of the woke universe? While usually providing scant intellectual leadership, they never shut up about diversity and inclusiveness, transparency and shared governance, equity and sustainability, raising all bars but the fun kind, and modeling “fair and just” societies so that everyone else knows how to behave. They supinely signal whatever virtues their high-price consultants tell them to tout that week, tolerate no deviation from politically correct speech and behavioral norms, and hold themselves out as paladins of enlightenment to mask whatever inner emptiness or lack of maternal love led them to become university administrators in the first place.

They also beg for money with the zeal of meth-addicted Upper West Side panhandlers emboldened by the defunding of New York’s police department. They used just to beg alumni. Now they beg their professors and staff, the students and their parents, foundations and trusts, corporations and governments, guilty millionaires and senile widows, obnoxious climbers and moronic do-gooders, friends and neighbors, innocent bystanders, and, apparently even Islamist royals and Chinese communists. If they were to discover that the birds and the trees possessed invested assets, a memo would duly be sent to some dead-eyed Vice President for Development to let loose his shallow minions to cultivate them as prospective aviary and arboreal donors.

The funds these riverboat sheisters raise are usually the only justification for keeping their jobs and compensation packages, which often run into seven figures and can include, in the case of New York University’s president, the use of a private beach house – a fortress of solitude he undoubtedly needs to collect precious droplets of leadership potential. Along the way, they raise tuition as far as annual increases in government-sponsored educational loans will allow, reduce as much of the faculty as possible to low-paid contingent status with minimal employment rights, hire the best lawyers they can find to fight anyone who challenges their treatment, and plow untold billions into pet projects in the hope that future generations might read their names on faux bronze plaques commemorating the opening of a new recreation center, mental health facility, or helipad and possibly think that the sharpie who arranged it might have been a good guy. It all takes money, and if that means cozying up to generous Central Committee members, liberal principles are cheap, indeed.

In the balance of self-love versus fear of prosecution, even the most pig-headed narcissist in a wood panelled president’s office will lean toward saving his ample posterior for the next round of cheese puff receptions. With their already sordid images and far less than sterling reputations on the line, even before the Department of Education released its report worried university administrators responded to the investigation by cleaning up their acts at least somewhat to report foreign funds with greater attentiveness. In June the Department created an online portal through which institutions can make the legally required disclosures. In the four months since it opened, it has received declarations of more than 7,000 transactions totaling about $3.8 billion. Sixty of the reporting institutions, which reported a total of $350 million in the first month after the portal opened alone, had filed no reports of foreign gifts and contracts since at least 1986.

“The threat of improper foreign influence in higher education is real,” Secretary DeVos noted with more than a hint of understatement, “our action today ensures that America’s students, educators, and taxpayers can follow the money.” With the news of Hunter Biden’s foreign financial adventures compromising his father’s presidential campaign, we can well wonder if any Americans will still be able to follow the money should his father lurch past the finish line on 3 November and set new priorities in the Department of Education.


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