Are Elite Universities Getting Too Chummy With China and Russia?

Two American elite universities, Yale and Harvard, are now in the crosshairs of the Education Department. Why? They accepted money from foreign countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran and not reporting the gifts or contracts, which federal investigators estimate to be at least $6.5 billion.

The story, which appears in The Wall Street Journal, explains that “universities are required to disclose to the education department all contracts and gifts from a foreign source that alone or combined are worth $250,000 or more in a calendar year.” The Journal does not explain what, if anything, the money was intended for. What we do know is that it has not been used to lower tuition costs for students.

Last month, Charles Lieber, chairman of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was arrested and criminally charged with making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the U.S. Defense Department about his ties to a Chinese government program to recruit foreign scientists and researchers.

China wasn’t the only country of concern. The investigation, which began in 2019, showed one university had a relationship with Kaspersky Lab, a Russia-based cybersecurity company whose products the Trump administration has banned government agencies from using amid concerns it worked with Russian intelligence.

Clearly, the education department doesn’t think that Lieber is the only academic working with foreign governments. The Harvard and Yale investigations are the eighth and 9th probes following others at schools, including Georgetown, Cornell, and MIT.

The Journal says that some universities are dismissing the idea that national security might be compromised by accepting huge payments from foreign governments, and they’re accusing the Trump administration of discrimination. That might not sway the Senate, however, since an investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations last February called foreign government funding of U.S. universities a “black hole.”  They claim that 70% failed to report funding from Chinse government-backed cultural and language programs known as Confucius Institutes.

MTC Editor

5 thoughts on “Are Elite Universities Getting Too Chummy With China and Russia?

  1. “At least $6.5B” unreported. Why should we not cut off funding to those institutions that failed to report and place it elsewhere in academia. We might have a pause in research, but talent will follow money every time. When you got them by the checkbook, their hearts, minds, and residences will follow.

  2. “One would think that the government would want to encourage financial transfers to American universities from China”

    Do you think China is handing out this money from the goodness of their hearts?
    Or are they getting stuff in return — and what? Do not forget that Zaosong Zheng was arrested at Logan with 21 vials of something concealed in a sock in his luggage. It’s rumored that the Chinese actually stole the Corona Virus from a Canadian lab. And this is biological warfare, we’re not talking about the basic patent piracy and such which they are notorious for.

    Yes, Higher Education has essentially declared war on half the country and as that’s the half that’s currently in power, Higher Education ought to anticipate consequences of its vitriol. But that’s not this — they found the man with 21 vials of something that he admitted to have stolen from Beth Israel Deaconess….

  3. The Harvard/Charles Lieber matter has the potential of being considerably more serious than it might appear at first glance.

    The US Attorney states that “Zaosong Zheng, 30, a Chinese national, was arrested on Dec. 10, 2019, at Boston’s Logan International Airport and charged by criminal complaint with attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China.” Reportedly this was biological material used in cancer research that Zheng had stolen from a lab at what was then the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center* — a primary teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

    Yes, that Harvard….

    The US Attorney added that “Yanqing Ye, 29, a Chinese national, was charged in an indictment today with one count each of visa fraud, making false statements, acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy.”

    Stating that she was currently in China, the US Attorney continued that she is
    “a Lieutenant of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). On her J-1 visa application, Ye falsely identified herself as a “student” and lied about her ongoing military service at the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), a top military academy directed by the CCP. It is further alleged that while studying at Boston University’s (BU) Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering from October 2017 to April 2019, Ye continued to work as a PLA Lieutenant completing numerous assignments from PLA officers such as conducting research, assessing U.S. military websites and sending U.S. documents and information to China.”

    It was initially reported that both Zheng and Ye were associated with Dr. Charles Lieber and worked in his Harvard lab (in Cambridge, as opposed to the one in Wuhan which Harvard apparently didn’t even know about). At this point, it isn’t clear what relationship there is between the three, if any.

    And yes, that Wuhan — the Chinese city that is ground zero of the Corona Virus.

    The Wuhan University of Technology is where Liebar established his second lab and spent “not less than nine months a year” — somehow without Harvard ever knowing about it. Maybe — like you really don’t notice that the chair of a fairly significant department isn’t on campus “not less than nine months a year”?!?

    It gets worse — the Wuhan University of Technology is where China reportedly is working on Biological Warfare — in violation of International law. That’s what makes the smuggling of pathogens so scary — it isn’t just the theft of the intellectual property but that they may be potentially making things more virulent and more lethal. (And we don’t yet know where the Corona Virus came from….)

    Oh, and Charles Lieber — his research involves nanotechnology for mind control. It has potential for good (e.g. with Parkinson’s disease) but in the hands of the ChiComs, ummm….

    * Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has since merged with the Lahey Clinic and is now known as Beth Israel Lahey Health. An interesting aspect of this is that Lahey is one of the main teaching hospitals of Tufts Medical School….

  4. A couple of odd things in this piece.

    “The Journal does not explain what, if anything, the money was intended for. What we do know is that it has not been used to lower tuition costs for students.”

    Well, why would anyone expect China and Russia to donate money to Harvard and Yale to lower tuition for American students?

    “The Journal says that some universities are dismissing the idea that national security might be compromised by accepting huge payments from foreign governments.”

    The question is not whether accepting the donations compromise national security, or even whether they are illegal — as far as I know, they are not. The question is whether the universities failed to report them properly. The universities are claiming that the federal laws — or regulations? — are so unclear as to be difficult or impossible to know what is required to comply with them.

    By all means, if Lieber ilegally lied about his dealings with China, then he probably deserves what he will get both from the U.S. government and from Harvard. But let’s not have a witch hunt.

    One would think that the government would want to encourage financial transfers to American universities from China, given the huge imbalance in trade with that country. The government claims that China hinders imports in goods and services from the United States.

    It is hard not to suspect that at least part of what is going on involves a vendetta against American academia, given that it is overwhelmingly anti- or at least not pro-Trump. The same holds for the Trump administration’s repeated absurd moves to cut science funding at American universities.

    This seems like a really dumb way to advance the well-being and power of the United States.

    1. “By all means, if Lieber ilegally lied about his dealings with China, then he probably deserves what he will get both from the U.S. government and from Harvard. But let’s not have a witch hunt.” Probably? What witch hunt? It’s hard not to suspect that “Jonathan” is a troll, if not in the pay of China. This website has repeatedly pointed out the misuse of government funding for duplicative, sterile and non-reproducible “science” . What’s absurd in attempting to rein in useless, if not criminal, squandering of public funds? This one does not think that the government should want to encourage “ilegal” theft or purchase of our intellectual property by a potential adversary.

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