The higher education lobby wasted no time calling in favors from the incoming Biden administration. In a letter to Biden and Kamala Harris organized by the American Council on Education and signed by forty-five higher ed lobbying organizations, they demand a return to the hands-off managerial approach taken by most administrations since Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education (DOE) in 1979. Biden should respond with a firm "no."
Especially troubling is higher ed's call for an immediate halt to recent steps to hold universities accountable for ignoring federal law in reporting foreign gifts and contracts. Just last month, DOE released a damning report revealing that its long overdue enforcement of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 "catalyzed disclosure of $6.5 billion in previously unreported foreign money." Its new reporting portal, which opened in June, revealed that sixty of the universities filing disclosures through it were "'new filers,' 'meaning that between 1986 and June 2020 these institutions had not previously submitted any reports.'" That such laxity was ever allowed is itself a scandal.
Massive influence-buying operations on U.S. campuses by Qatar, China, and Saudi Arabia are well known.
Massive influence-buying operations on American campuses by Qatar, China, and Saudi Arabia are well known, but were of little concern to university administrators before DOE's crackdown. Tiny Qatar is now the largest single foreign donor to American universities, having given over $1 billion from 2011 to 2017. Despite the presence of America's Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar is a center of extremist Wahhabi Islam and a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and various jihadi groups – including Hamas – throughout the Middle East. Yet six American universities have campuses in Doha's Education City. Several schools, including Georgetown and Texas A&M, are under investigation for undisclosed gifts from the Qatar Foundation, which is controlled by the regime. Similarly, a bipartisan senate report found that "U.S. schools routinely failed to report Confucius Institute funding to the Department of Education as required by law."
A Biden DOE should rebuff the higher ed lobby's self-serving demands.
Given this sordid record, a Biden DOE should rebuff the higher ed lobby's self-serving demands and keep the pressure on American universities to come clean about their foreign supporters. American taxpayers, whose dollars sustain almost every university and college in the country, deserve to know if foreign powers leverage grants to buy domestic influence. The U.S. can't afford to allow its national security to be compromised by hostile nations funneling dark money to greedy administrators.
Winfield Myers is the director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum and director of its Campus Watch project.