Betsy DeVos says China is 'attempting nothing short of espionage via America’s colleges and universities’

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote an op-ed recommending greater transparency of foreign donations to American universities after the Biden administration relaxed oversight.

President Biden dropped Trump-era investigations into foreign donations, putting a stop to what DeVos argued was ‘just scratching the surface of... undisclosed foreign money.'

Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote a recent op-ed in the New York Post recommending greater transparency of foreign donations to American universities. 

DeVos drew attention to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), claiming it “must find a lot to like about the Biden team’s decision-making” after the administration relaxed oversight of foreign influence in higher education. 

“China,” DeVos argued, “is attempting nothing short of espionage via America’s colleges and universities–buying its way into influencing teaching, stealing our intellectual property and manipulating US foreign policy.”

She noted the uptick in anonymous donations from China to the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) after the 2017 opening of the Penn Biden Center. The think tank became a source of controversy in January 2023 for housing classified documents, which “reportedly include[d] intelligence memos and briefing materials regarding Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom,” according to Forbes

[RELATED: READ: PROF. GIORDANO: American universities are ‘turning a blind eye’ to ‘foreign influence’ on campuses]

The op-ed continued by referring to the Penn Biden Center as a “national-security-council-in-waiting.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, White House counselor Steven Ricchetti, and others in the administration have worked for the Penn Biden Center in some capacity, according to DeVos.  

UPenn is one of the universities that received an August 2020 congressional inquiry letter because of its alleged failure to report foreign gifts and donations to the Department of Education. President Biden later dropped the Trump-era investigations, putting a stop to what DeVos argued was “just scratching the surface of how much undisclosed foreign money has been injected into American academia.” 

“Reviews of just 12 higher-ed institutions conducted while I was secretary revealed more than $6.5 billion in previously unreported foreign contributions,” DeVos wrote. 

Rep. Virginia Foxx, Chairwoman of the Education and Workforce Committee, recently reignited the investigation, according to Campus Reform

[RELATED: As China surveils American colleges, UChicago releases statement on CCP detaining former student]

The investigation into undisclosed donations is not the only initiative dropped by the Biden administration. “Consider the Biden Department of Justice decision to end the ‘China Initiative’–a program the Trump administration launched to counter national-security threats China poses to the United States,” Devos said. 

“Among other key revelations and outcomes, the initiative led to the arrest of Charles Lieber, the Harvard chemistry department chair whose work the CCP secretly funded and who is accused of academic espionage.” 

Campus Reform spoke about similar cases with Paul Moore, the Senior Counsel for the Defense of Freedom Institute (DFI) and former Chief Investigative Counsel at the Department of Education. 

In response to a federal investigation in 2020, [Texas A&M University (TAMU)] determined that more than 100 of its researchers were also involved in Chinese talent-recruitment programs. Only [five] of those faculty had reported such connections,” Moore said. 

This is not unique to TAMU and continues to happen at universities across the country.”

DeVos called for greater transparency in her op-ed and pointed to a recent initiative that provides oversight of foreign influence: part of the CHIPS and Science Act will “require more stringent disclosures from foreign-funded researchers.”

Transparency, DeVos wrote, is a concern because of “the high correlation between foreign gifts, especially from [America’s] geopolitical adversaries, and American universities that are home to major research laboratories, including those with Department of Defense contracts.”

Though “the higher-ed lobby has made it no secret it opposes true transparency,” Biden “should demand the University of Pennsylvania set the standard by releasing details of its entanglements with China without delay,” DeVos argued. 

Moore told Campus Reform that grant recipients should also know their research collaborators. “Unfortunately, vetting of grant recipients is extremely uneven across federal agencies, to the extent it exists,” he said. 

”For example, research collaborators frequently include Chinese researchers who almost certainly have obligations to provide research they access back to China, including for the benefit of the People’s Liberation Army.”

Moore accused the CCP of using “a whole-of-government approach to espionage.”

When the Soviet Union did this to us, our government formed a whole-of-government approach to defend America and counter the threat,” he argued. 

Those efforts have been largely abandoned now by the Biden Administration, pursuant to the instructions of the higher ed lobbywhich represents the massive international conglomerates that many of our universities have become, despite their continued reliance on taxpayer support.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.