The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) issued its 2023 report to Congress on Nov. 14. The report included 30 recommendations of “particular significance.” Its third recommendation identified proposals to “address China’s state-sponsored influence and interference” now affecting America’s universities.
Released a day before President Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, the report addresses a wide range of China’s challenges to the U.S. and offers important legislative recommendations for protecting America’s interests.
The report is particularly notable for the unanimous support it received from all USCC commissioners for its recommendations. For reference, its chairman served as chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and its vice chairman was a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) before becoming a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Trump administration.
Six of the commissioners were appointed by Democratic congressional leaders and six were appointed by Republican congressional leaders. In short, this is a genuinely bipartisan commission.
The USCC urges legislative amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 that would require enhanced foreign gift and contract disclosures by universities, going back at least 10 years. It would require that those records be shared with the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and that an interagency review regularly identify security risks posed by the financial ties between universities and China.
In a sign of the seriousness of the threat, the commission calls for a complete end to federal financial assistance for universities that fail to comply with these disclosure requirements over three consecutive or nonconsecutive years. Finally, the report recommends that the U.S. Department of Education evaluate the “adequacy” of the current $250,000 threshold for foreign gifts and contracts reporting by universities, indicating that an even lower reporting threshold might be appropriate.
The USCC’s proposed reforms would significantly strengthen foreign financial disclosure requirements and penalties for compliance failures by universities. These reforms aren’t likely to be welcomed by universities long addicted to significant foreign financial arrangements with friend and foe alike.
Many of our most prominent universities have often failed to disclose massive contributions from China, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries, as the Education Department revealed in its Oct. 2020 compliance report. Other significant foreign financial ties have also been hidden by universities.
Only weeks ago, the Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement with Stanford University over Stanford’s failure to disclose foreign financial involvement in its research programs, even as the private university was successfully applying for significant federal research grants, including grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA…