Ernst, GOP colleagues seek to reduce foreign influence on American higher ed institutions

Toward minimizing the influence that foreign adversaries might have on American colleges and universities, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and several of her Republican colleagues recently proposed legislation that would improve transparency and accountability around foreign gift reporting requirements.

“It’s past time we unwrap this influence-buying scheme,” said Sen. Ernst.

Foreign regimes, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), have expanded their influence by providing American academic institutions with lucrative funding opportunities, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Ernst’s staff, and many schools don’t report such gifts and funding. 

“Gifts often come with strings attached, especially when they’re from the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Ernst said. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues to prevent malign foreign entities from infiltrating our universities, stealing our technologies, and compromising our national security.”

The senator on Nov. 29 signed on as one of six original cosponsors of the Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act, S. 3362, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and includes fellow cosponsor U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

If enacted, S. 3362 would slash the foreign gift reporting threshold for colleges and universities from $250,000 to $50,000, with a $0 threshold for countries of concern, according to the bill summary, and would provide transparency to Congress, intelligence agencies, and the public by requiring the disclosure of foreign gifts to individual staff and faculty at research-heavy institutions.

The bill also would require that the nation’s largest private institutions reveal foreign investments in their endowments, and it would implement “a series of repercussions” for colleges and universities that remain noncompliant in foreign gift reporting, including fines and the loss of specific federal funding, the summary says.

S. 3362 has been referred to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for consideration.