United States investigates Harvard, Yale for failure to report foreign gifts

An illustration of a gateway at Yale University

An illustration of a gateway at Yale University

The Education Department opened investigations into Harvard and Yale as part of a continuing review that it says has found USA universities failed to report at least $6.5 billion in foreign funding from countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, according to department materials viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

National funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, are also investigating whether United States academic researchers they give grants to are receiving money from foreign sources.

A common thread in the investigations is questions about funding from China.

Harvard chemistry professor Charles Lieber in 2006.

The department requested records of gifts from foreign sources, including from the People's Republic of China, Huawei Technologies, ZTE Corp, Kaspersky Lab, the governments of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, as well as other entities connected to those governments.

Yale received a request from the department on Tuesday for records of certain gifts and contracts from foreign sources under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, university spokeswoman Karen Peart told the Reuters news agency.

A tour group takes shelter from the rain while they go on a tour of Harvard's campus. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the chairman of the committee which authored the report, said China's Communist Party "invests strategically" in the US education system and that "the public lacks an accurate or complete picture of China's overall spending because almost 70% of colleges and universities who accepted such donations from China failed to report them".

According to another document disclosed by the WSJ, on February 11 the DOE also sent a letter to Yale university, seeking its records on contributions from Saudi Arabia, China, Singapore, Qatar and others, which yielded a disclosure by the school of at least $375 million in foreign funding - about which Yale had kept mum between 2014-17. She said the university believes its reporting is current and complete.

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"If colleges and universities are accepting foreign money and gifts, their students, donors, and taxpayers deserve to know how much and from whom", said US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The Education Department claims that American universities and colleges may have failed to disclose as much as $6.5 billion in foreign funding.

"Moreover, it's what the law requires".

"Unfortunately, the more we dig, the more we find that too many are under-reporting or not reporting at all", she added.

Most US colleges and universities are required to report foreign gifts and contract revenue exceeding US$250,000. Since July 2019, colleges and universities have reported about $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money, the agency said.

The department described higher-education institutions in the US, in a document viewed by the Journal, as "multi-billion dollar, multi-national enterprises using opaque foundations, foreign campuses, and other sophisticated legal structures to generate revenue".

Department officials accused the schools of actively soliciting money from foreign governments, companies and nationals, who are known to be hostile to the US and potentially seeking to steal research secrets and 'spread propaganda benefiting foreign governments, ' according to a document reported by the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the probe.

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Rob Portman of OH and Tom Carper, a Democrat from DE, released a joint statement calling on American universities to be more transparent about their ties with foreign governments.

"The fact that US$6.5 billion in foreign gifts to U.S. institutions went unreported until now is shocking and unacceptable", the senators said in a joint statement.

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