Asia, New in Lobbying, US-China tensions

Education Department probes Stanford, Fordham over China ties

The US Department of Education has announced new investigations into Stanford and Fordham universities over their ties to China.

The two private schools in California and The Bronx are respectively the 11th and 12th US universities to come under scrutiny from the department’s Office of the General Counsel since last year over concerns that they may have failed to properly disclose certain gifts and contracts from foreign sources. The department has been doubling down on the reporting requirement over the past year amid intensifying pressure from Congress and the Donald Trump administration to combat perceived Chinese influence over US higher education:

Source: US Department of Education

In a pair of letters sent Monday to Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Fordham President Joseph McShane, Principal Deputy General Counsel Reed Rubinstein giving them 60 days to comply with a request for documents regarding foreign funding since 2010. After that the department may request that the Attorney General commence an enforcement action “to compel compliance and to recover the full costs to the United States of obtaining compliance, including all associated costs of investigation and enforcement.”

Stanford and Fordham did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the case of Stanford, Rubinstein notes that federal prosecutors last month charged visiting researcher Song Chen with lying on visa application forms about her ties to Chinese military institutions. “Stanford appears to have given Chen ongoing access to significant neurological research activities and developments,” he wrote.

The letter goes on to note Stanford’s “extensive business interests in and very deep entanglements” with China, including its establishment of the Stanford Center at Peking University in 2012. “As Stanford must know,” Rubinstein wrote, “Peking University is directly controlled by Chinese Communist Party officials and recently even amended its charter to reinforce its long-standing role as a tool of the Chinese communists.”

After listing the university’s ties to China, Rubinstein asserts that the university has disclosed more than $64 million in “unidentified, anonymous gifts and contracts from and with the PRC since May 2010,” despite a legal requirement that the identities of big foreign donors be made public. He also raises concerns that Stanford “may have under-reported donations from and contracts with Chinese nationals, Chinese corporations, and the Chinese government.”

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In his letter to Fordham, Rubinstein notes that the university has identified 28 partner institutions around the world, including Shanghai University, China’s Southeast University, Wuhan University, Xiamen University and a two-decade-old association with Peking University in Beijing. Since 1998 that partnership has made possible the Beijing International MBA at Peking University, which Fordham calls the “first joint international MBA program in Beijing approved by the Chinese government.”

Despite those ties, Rubinstein notes, Fordham has only disclosed two contracts or gifts worth $250,000 or more annually since 1986.

“It is the Department’s experience that Fordham’s extensive international operations are very likely concurrent with substantial foreign source gifts and/or contracts, despite the dearth of disclosures by Fordham,” he wrote. “As a result, the Department is concerned that Fordham’s reporting may not fully capture all qualifying gifts, contracts, and/or restricted and conditional gifts or contracts from or with all foreign sources.”

Update: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 11, 2020 to include the investigation into Standford.