Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for Records about Investigations of Foreign Money in Colleges and Universities

‘More than 70 U.S. universities that received funding from the Chinese government did not disclose those donations to the Department of Education’

(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education for all records related to its investigations of colleges and universities accepting foreign gifts and contracts (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Education (No. 1:20-cv-02010)).

The lawsuit was filed after the Department of Education failed to respond to May 4, 2020 FOIA request for:

All information, documents, and communication(s) between the Department and all schools currently under a Section 117 investigation regarding acceptance or reporting of foreign gifts including, but not limited to, gifts to affiliated foundations, all ancillary or foreign campuses, and individual departments or professors between January 1, 2018 and present; and

Any preliminary findings or reports that cover all open and closed investigations of the Department regarding false or misleading reporting of foreign gifts, including all source documents and information relied upon to determine findings or other report content.

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit explains that Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1011f, “requires U.S. institutions of higher education receiving federal funding to report any gifts from, or contracts with, foreign sources with a value of $250,000 or more in a twelve-month period. Section 117 also authorizes the Department of Education to open an administrative investigation, and, if necessary, ask the Attorney General to initiate a civil action to enforce the law.”

On May 4, 2020, the ranking members of seven committees, including Rep. Jim Jordan of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Virginia Foxx of the Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. Michael Rogers of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Frank Lucas of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Rep. Devin Nunes of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Mac Thornberry of the Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul of the Foreign Affairs committee wrote to the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos outlining their concerns about foreign influence in American institutes of higher education. In the letter, they specifically highlight the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to silence academic research into the origins of COVID-19. It is not publicly known if they have received these records or the briefing.

It was reported on June 15, 2020, that “More than 70 U.S. universities that received funding from the Chinese government did not disclose those donations to the Department of Education, prompting concerns from lawmakers and watchdogs about Beijing and the Communist Party’s growing influence on American college campuses.”

On June 9, 2020, Dr. Charles Lieber, the former chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, “was indicted by a federal grand jury … on charges that he lied to U.S. officials about his ties to a Chinese-run program aimed at furthering the communist superpower’s scientific and technological development.”

Since May 2019, Judicial Watch has represented the Zachor Legal Institute in a Texas Public Information Act lawsuit, seeking information about potential influence by the Qatar government’s funding of certain Texas A&M University programs and a Texas A&M campus in Education City, Al Rayyan, Qatar (Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development v. Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General (No. D-1-GN-18-006240)).

“China is a clear and present danger to the United States, and this lawsuit aims to expose secret Chinese and other nefarious foreign funding of America’s colleges and universities,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.


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