Cornell University initially failed to report to U.S. authorities more than $1.2 billion in foreign funds it has received in recent years, including $760 million related to its campus in Qatar and about $1 million in contracts from Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies Co., the U.S. Education Department indicated in its latest report on schools and foreign contracts.
The names of Cornell and other universities are redacted in a report the department released Tuesday, but are identifiable based on other details provided in the report and related correspondence by the department with the schools.
The 34-page report provides an update to a broad investigation the Education Department undertook last year into whether U.S. universities are appropriately reporting all foreign contracts and gifts that total more than $250,000 in one year. It isn’t illegal to take such funds, but universities are obligated to disclose them under a statute that is decades old but hasn’t been vigorously enforced in past years.
The department said Tuesday it planned to condition access to participation in federal student-loan programs on compliance with foreign-funding obligations.
The government has expressed concern that foreign money may come with strings attached, provide foreign governments improper access to sensitive research or limit academic freedom in some programs.
“U.S. institutions are technological treasure troves where leading and internationally competitive fields, such as nanoscience, are booming. For too long, these institutions have provided an unprecedented level of access to foreign governments and their instrumentalities in an environment lacking transparency and oversight by the industry, the Department, and our partner agencies,” the Education Department said in its report.
The Justice Department has been cracking down on violations of a law that requires lobbyists for foreign nationals and governments to publicly disclose that work. A top Republican fundraiser pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a related charge.
Education Department investigators found that “many large and well-resourced institutions of higher education have aggressively pursued and accepted foreign money,” while failing to comply with reporting obligations, according to the new report.
“Evidence suggests institutional decision-making is generally divorced from any sense of obligation to our taxpayers or concern for our American national interests, security, or values,” the report added.
The report said a school, identifiable as Georgetown University, has worked with the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, “derived $2,360,807” from an arrangement that demonstrated “significant intermingling” with China, and supported an academic exchange with Communist officials through the central committee’s Party School.
A Georgetown spokeswoman said the school’s tax filings show a nearly identical dollar amount in expenditures in the region, but not gifts or contracts from foreign entities, and that the details in the report were “a bit puzzling to us.”
U.S. universities have generally defended their international collaborations and said the agency’s reporting requirements were unclear.
A Cornell spokesman acknowledged the university’s past errors in reporting and said it had undertaken significant efforts since July 2019 to file accurate disclosures of the foreign funds.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Since 2019, the Education Department has opened investigations into a dozen top universities including Harvard University and Yale University, finding that U.S. universities failed to report at least $6.5 billion in such funds.
The new report details information the agency received from Georgetown, Texas A&M University, Cornell, Rutgers University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland. The other schools under investigation are continuing to provide information or have yet to provide documents, the report said.
One school, identifiable as Cornell, admitted that it failed to document its institution in Qatar in previous reports to the department, and said it was dumbfounded about how to explain the error, the report said. The university has a branch of its medical school in the Gulf country.
Multiple schools also belatedly reported receiving millions of dollars from Huawei, the report said, referring to the tech giant whose equipment U.S. national security officials have warned could be used for espionage, which the company denies.
American universities largely stopped taking Huawei funds by 2018 based on the U.S. concerns, but many top schools had previously entered into extensive contracts with the company, the report said. The university identifiable as MIT, for example, held around $11 million in contracts and agreements with Huawei since 2013, ranging from research agreements to donations for specific projects and programs, the report said.
An MIT spokeswoman said that the school has no current or ongoing agreements with Huawei. She also said that more than two years ago the school identified ways to improve its foreign gift and contract reporting and has used that approach since January 2019.
Many of the Huawei-sponsored arrangements covered topics in competitive industries such as robotics, semiconductors and online cloud services, the report said. A Huawei representative couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In the wake of the Education Department’s crackdown, universities self-reported some $6.6 billion from Qatar, China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an additional $1.05 billion coming from those countries in the most recent reporting period, which ended July 31, the report said.
The Education Department said it would encourage schools’ independent auditors to provide opinions on foreign gifts and may work with the Justice Department regarding potential enforcement against specific institutions.
The report also highlighted several other areas of sensitive research in which universities collaborated with foreign partners, and said the agency wanted to encourage public discussion about such activities through the disclosures. The report described, for example, a contract between a university identifiable as the University of Maryland and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to develop algorithms for crowd-surveillance capabilities.
“This agreement raises concerns that China seeks to leverage its relationships with American universities to dominate a global market—in this case, the facial recognition market and the artificial intelligence market, at large,” the report said. An Alibaba representative couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.