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Chinese Influence on American Higher Education Is a Threat to All Americans

When the news recently broke that President Biden mishandled classified information by storing it at his “think tank” at the University of Pennsylvania, most of you would have thought I would write about the importance of ensuring sensitive information regarding America’s national security be handled appropriately at every level.  That is important.  Every person – from the Army E3 to the President of the United States – must ensure our nation’s secrets don’t land in the hands of our enemies.  But this troubling episode is not even the most concerning part of the story.  Our nation’s higher educational system is being purchased and manipulated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Since 2014, the University of Pennsylvania has taken in well over $50 million in foreign donations from China, and it received over half that money – about $30 million – shortly after the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was announced in 2017.  That means classified information was kept at an unsecured location overseen by a university with a record of taking in massive donations from the People’s Republic of China.

Why does this matter to the American people?  It matters because this “think tank” was little more than a holding space created for Biden and his team as he prepared to run for President, and many former officials at both the Penn Biden Center and Penn itself now have high-ranking positions in our federal government.  Michael Carpenter, the former managing director of the Penn Biden Center, is now U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Amy Guttman, Penn’s President, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Germany in 2021 by President Biden, despite her nearly decade-long failure to disclose donations from China to the university she oversaw.  Thus, the influence China garnered with its hefty donations to a single university now may have resulted in real influence with high-ranking American officials.

The issue goes well beyond Penn, though. Donations like these are now commonplace across America’s higher education landscape.  Between 2013 and 2020, U.S. universities accepted nearly $1 billion in Chinese donations.  I have previously written about Harvard’s entanglements with the Chinese Communist Party, which resulted in the Chinese Embassy citing a Harvard study to legitimize its efforts to silence my own messages to the Chinese people.  It has been reported that Harvard facilitated a meeting between Anthony Fauci and representatives of Chinese real estate giant Evergrande in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.  In the days following the meeting, Evergrande announced a $115 million donation to Harvard University, while Fauci’s team denounced any theories which asserted the virus had originated in a Chinese lab.

President Biden’s mishandling of classified material goes far beyond whether or not these documents may have been seen by CCP intelligence.  The very fact that such a risk even exists at America’s institutions of higher education should be cause enough for concern.  China’s copious donations to American universities are not made because the CCP wishes to enrich the academic experience of American students or even to improve the education of the 300,000-350,000 Chinese students who study in the United States every single year.  These donations are made for one reason and one reason only: to buy influence.  And this influence is shockingly welcomed by the leftists who dominate our university system, even while they routinely revolt against a single conservative politician being invited to speak at their campuses.

We understood this threat in the Trump Administration and made confronting the CCP’s influence in America’s higher education an important area of focus. These efforts were most visible in our work to shut down Confucius Institutes and to call attention to the threats to academic integrity and intellectual property our universities faced if they did business with the CCP.  These efforts were a good start, but there is still far more work to be done.  From Ivy League schools like Penn and Harvard to state schools across America, gifts and donations from China are far too common and plentiful.  As it awaits the results of the Department of Justice probe into President Biden’s mishandling of documents, Congress must also take serious steps to address the CCP’s outsized influence in American higher education.

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