Universities Attempt to Keep Congress From Gaining Access to Documents Highlighting Their Ties to China

Currently, university attorneys are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and are also preventing Congress from gaining access to records that demonstrate the institutions’ ties to China.

The College Fix was able to exclusively obtain a May 19 letter demonstrating these ties.

The Education Department’s General Counsel Reed Rubinstein wrote the letter, which told elected officials who requested the documents that the universities’ lawyers “claimed Freedom of Information Act exemptions and legal privileges to block record production to Congress.”

Rubinstein noted that some schools may be too enthusiastic in labeling some documents “confidential” or “privileged.”

However, he pointed out that staff will reach out to each school under investigation and inform them about which records will be handed over to Congress. To block a document being handed over, an objecting school “must provide written specification of the records designated for withholding and specific supporting legal grounds,” the letter stated.

The letter does not explicitly detail which schools pushed the department to keep their records confidential.

Rubinstein’s memo came in response to a May 4 letter from several leading House Republicans requesting that the Education Department hand over documents on all findings or reports outlining gifts from China to U.S. colleges and universities. They alluded to China’s infiltration of the American higher education system and certain misgivings about theft, spying and propaganda.

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan led the charge by additionally requesting details on all open and closed investigations by the Education Department that dealt with “false or misleading reporting of foreign gifts.”

In February, the Education Department declared it would be investigating Harvard and Yale for its failure to report hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign gifts and contracts. The department has said once it started to apply pressure on schools in July of 2019 to report foreign funding, there have been $6.5 billion in foreign money disclosed.

Rubinstein informed representatives that the Education Department shares their concerns, and campus leaders are also “starting to acknowledge the threat of foreign academic espionage and have been working with federal law enforcement to address gaps in reporting and transparency.”

“However, the evidence suggests massive investments of foreign money have bred dependency and distorted the decision making, mission, and values of too many institutions.”

Rubinstein continued by noting that some of the department’s own documents will remain confidential to protect “the integrity of its investigations.”

“Inappropriate disclosure of confidential information could lead to separation of powers concerns and will certainly impair the factfinding and enforcement work Congress has authorized us to do,” the letter stated.

He detailed that some “institutions have yet to produce requested emails, metadata, and other information regarding business relationships with, and faculty funding from, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Russian foreign sources.”

In March 2018, the FBI put out a report revealing how some foreign scholars on American campuses “seek to illicitly or illegitimately acquire U.S. academic research and information to advance their scientific, economic, and military development goals.” The report noted the Chinese government “has historically sponsored economic espionage, and China is the world’s principal infringer of intellectual property.”

During the past two weeks, several researchers have been arrested for not disclosing their financial ties to China. On May 13, Dr. Qing Wang, a former researcher at the Cleveland Clinic, was arrested and charged with making false allegations and committing wire fraud after not disclosing substantial funding for his work coming from the Chinese government.

Professor Simon Ang, who is the head of the University of Arkansas High Density Electronics Center, was subsequently arrested for hiding connections to China when he applied for NASA grants.

Recently, former Emory University professor Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li pleaded guilty and received a one year of probation on a felony charge and was ordered to pay $35,089 in restitution for filing false tax returns in which he failed to disclose at least $500,000 in income from his work at Chinese universities.

The researchers in the FBI’s sights are usually involved in a program called the Thousand Talents Plan, which the FBI suspects China uses to steal intellectual property gathered through American research.

In the May 19 letter, the Education Department agreed to hold a one-hour presentation outlining its China findings for House Republicans, in addition to a separate briefing for Democrats.

“The danger posed to our national interest by undisclosed IHE (Institutes of Higher Education) foreign funding and lax federal enforcement is thoroughly nonpartisan in nature,” stated a letter from the department.

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