Harvard, Yale Targets Of Education Department Probe Into Foreign Donations

Cheryl Sanders
February 14, 2020

The Education Department said Yale had failed to disclose at least $375 million in foreign funding after filing no reports from 2014-17, according to a document viewed by the Journal.

In a letter to Harvard posted on the DoE website, the department asked the school to disclose any records of gifts or contracts involving the governments of China, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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.

Foreign countries may be "seeking to project 'soft power, ' steal sensitive and proprietary research and development data and other intellectual property, and spread propaganda benefiting foreign governments", the education department 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". The Education Department claims that American universities and colleges may have failed to disclose as much as $6.5 billion in foreign funding.

Last month, a Harvard chemistry professor was accused of lying about his connections to China and concealing payments to him from a Chinese university. The plan seeks to attract foreign-educated scientists to China.

In a separate letter to Yale, the department demand records regarding gifts from Saudi Arabia, China and its telecom giants, and others.

Officials have previously described foreign spending on U.S. universities as a "black hole" and warned that such money can come with strings attached. Harvard said it was also preparing a response.


A congressional subcommittee has referred to foreign spending on USA schools as a "black hole" because of the lack of reporting about funding and found that such money can "come with strings attached that might compromise academic freedom", the department notes.

Yale did not comment on the allegation that it had failed to report $375m in foreign gifts and contracts, but told the BBC it was preparing a response to the government's letter. Since then, institutions reported $3.6 billion of previously undisclosed foreign gifts, the education department said. "We are pleased that the Department of Education is increasing enforcement efforts and taking a step towards ensuring academic freedom in America".

In a July letter to the Education Department, ACE's senior vice president for government relations, Terry W. Hartle, pointed out that, in the more than three decades since Section 117 was added to the Higher Education Act, the provision has been a source of "confusion" for schools, and the department has never made an effort to write clarifying rules. Yale is among the schools that have been singled out in a Department of Education investigation.

The agency has written to the universities requesting records related to gifts or contracts from a foreign source. It said $3.6 billion of that was reported by 10 schools: Cornell University, Yale, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, Texas A&M, and Carnegie Mellon University. For example, in a September 2019 letter addressed to one group that represents more than 200 universities, an official called the universities' reporting duties "plainly evident". However, with alleged gaps in reporting, the number may actually be much higher.


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