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Official: Foreign Gift Investigation Found 'Disturbing Facts'

December 13, 2019

Federal investigations into whether six universities are complying with a law requiring disclosure of gifts and contracts from foreign sources have “revealed disturbing facts,” Reed D. Rubinstein, the principal deputy general counsel, said in a Nov. 27 letter to the head of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Rubinstein said that the six universities collectively did not report more than $1.3 billion in income from foreign sources. He also highlighted a number of arguably questionable partnerships.

“One university received research funding from a Chinese multinational conglomerate to develop new algorithms and advance biometric security techniques for crowd surveillance capabilities,” he wrote. One “had multiple contracts with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China.” One “accepted funds from the arm of a foreign government to create an 'academic' center expressly for the dissemination of propaganda and to conduct other 'soft power' information activities.” One had a relationship with a Russian company banned from contracting with the U.S. government.

Rubinstein cautioned that the findings were preliminary and the investigations "nascent." He did not name the six universities in his letter. The department announced investigations earlier this year into disclosures of foreign gifts and contracts at Cornell, Georgetown, Texas A&M and Rutgers Universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland. Higher education groups have raised concerns about the investigations, arguing that the law requiring disclosures lacks clarity.

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Elizabeth Redden

Elizabeth Redden, Senior Reporter, covers general higher education topics, religion and higher education, and international higher education for Inside Higher Ed. She has more than a decade of experience as an education journalist. She holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.

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