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Department of Education Launches Probe into Harvard's Foreign Funding

Massachusetts Hall is located in Harvard Yard and is home to several administrative offices.
Massachusetts Hall is located in Harvard Yard and is home to several administrative offices. By Kai R. McNamee
By Ellen M. Burstein and Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writers

The United States Department of Education has opened an investigation into Harvard over funding allegedly solicited from foreign governments.

In a Feb. 11 letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Department of Education officials asked the University to disclose information about contracts or gifts connected to the governments of China, Iran, Russia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal first reported Wednesday afternoon.

The Education Department also requested that the University disclose any records related to two Chinese telecommunications companies, Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp.; two Russian entities, the Kaspersky Lab and Skolkovo Foundation; Iran’s Alavi Foundation; the Wuhan University of Technology in China; and other organizations.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed that Harvard received the letter about the investigation.

“I can confirm that Harvard did receive the Notice of Investigation, is reviewing it and beginning to prepare its response to the Department of Education,” Swain wrote in an email.

The letter to Harvard comes as part of an ongoing review by the federal government of American universities’ connections to foreign governments.

Federal officials have alleged schools are soliciting money from hostile foreign governments, companies, and individuals that are potentially attempting to steal American universities’ research. Thus far, the investigation has found that universities across the country have failed to properly report $6.5 billion in foreign funding, according to the Journal.

Since June 28, 2019, the Department of Education has opened eight civil compliance investigations into other universities, including the Massachusets Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland.

Last fall, Harvard administrators announced the University had created two new oversight committees to prevent University researchers from taking such actions, which are known colloquially as “academic espionage.”

The letter said that the Department of Education “is aware of information suggesting Harvard University lacks appropriate institutional controls” on donations, and directly referenced Charles M. Lieber and Jeffrey Epstein.

In January, Lieber — the former Harvard Chemistry department chair — was arrested and charged with failing to disclose funding he received from the Chinese government. Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel is undertaking a review of billionaire donor and convicted sex offender Epstein’s donations to the University.

Federal officials are also investigating Yale University over allegations that the school did not disclose at least $375 million in foreign funding. Yale filed no reports between 2014 and 2017, according to the Journal.

The Education Department can take the case to the Department of Justice to levy civil or criminal charges if the schools do not turn over the information within 60 days.

Section 117 of the Higher Education Act — passed over 30 years ago — requires institutions of higher education to report contracts and gifts from foreign sources valued over $250,000 a year.

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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