Stanley Kurtz put out a call to the blogosphere to analyze public records he obtained detailing foreign money donations to U.S. colleges and universities.
You can take a look at the data here.
The first question we can ask is whether all institutions that ought to be reporting foreign gifts are in fact doing so. The University of Michigan reported a number of foreign gifts between 1992 and 1996, yet appears not to have reported any gifts after that date. Is this because the university has received no large foreign gifts since 1996, or because it has failed to report them? Or is there another explanation for the absence of reports over the past 12 years?
Questions like these are best pursued by local bloggers and reporters at college newspapers, who can find out whether their school is aware of foreign-gift-reporting requirements and perhaps obtain an on-the-record statement confirming that no foreign gifts of $250,000 or higher have been received within a given period.
This definitely deserves more follow-up:
As an example of reports that raise intriguing questions worthy of follow-up, let’s look at some gifts from the United Arab Emirates to Harvard University. Let me emphasize again that my comments here do not reflect settled conclusions, but are meant only to suggest lines for further inquiry.
It was widely reported in 2004 that Harvard University had returned a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates. (See here, here, and here.) The gift had originally been earmarked to fund an endowed professorship in Islamic religious studies at Harvard Divinity School, but was held up when students at the Divinity School alleged that the institution making the gift had hosted speakers claiming that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Zionists, and that Israel was behind 9/11.
Reports indicated that Harvard agreed to return the gift in 2004. So it is intriguing that in 2005 we see two $1-million gifts from the UAE to Harvard (without any donor name) and an additional $1.5 million contract between Harvard and the UAE. We then see an extremely large gift of $14,586,957 from an unnamed “non-government” source in the UAE to Harvard University in 2006.
While there may be nothing untoward here at all, further investigation seems appropriate. Were the gift reports of 2005 merely a kind of bookkeeping indication of the gift that passed through and was then eventually returned to the UAE, as promised? Or are we dealing with completely separate and subsequent gifts? A skeptic might wonder whether the gift reportedly returned was somehow quietly re-gifted later on. But of course there may be no connection at all between the gift famously returned to the UAE and the later gifts to Harvard from unnamed donors. In any case, more information would be most welcome.
Now, the National Association of Scholars has launched its own project probing foreign donations:
he NAS believes that timely, thorough, and accurate reporting of foreign gifts facilitates transparency in higher education. Complying with the law by publicly reporting large foreign gifts helps allay undue concerns about foreign influence over American higher education. Reporting foreign gifts also alerts the public to those few cases that do raise legitimate concerns about the role of foreign donors in American higher education. In short, public information on foreign gifts facilitates an important debate about the place of American higher education in the world.
The recent release of the Department of Education’s records on foreign gifts to American institutions of higher education has given rise to concerns that some colleges and universities may not be reporting large foreign gifts in a timely or thorough fashion. In view of these concerns, the NAS has agreed to act as a clearing house for reports that we believe raise legitimate concerns about the foreign gift reporting practices of particular institutions. The purpose of posting such concerns on this site is to encourage timely and accurate reporting of large foreign gifts. The NAS does not endorse, or claim to have reached any final conclusions, about the specific reports posted here. Our purpose is simply to help those who we feel are raising legitimate questions about gift reporting practices find a public forum.
While we do not endorse the reports we post as part of this project, we will sift submissions and decline to post any that are, on their face, simply rumors or ungrounded accusations. The NAS reserves the right to exercise its own judgment about which reports to post. We are looking for reputable reports based on significant evidence.
The NAS encourages colleges and universities to issue public statements about the accuracy and thoroughness of their foreign gift reporting practices. We are eager to post such statements at this site, particularly such statements as are issued in reply to any concerns about gift reporting practices posted here.
* If you know of news reports, stories in college newspapers, or reputable reports by bloggers raising legitimate questions about a given institution’s foreign gift reporting practices, we invite you to e-mail them to [email protected]
* If you know of news stories, or have information about large foreign gifts to a particular institution that are not included in the recently released federal data, you are also invited to send that information to our email.
* Again, the NAS seeks to provide a forum in which legitimate concerns about foreign gift reporting in higher education can be expressed. We are also eager to provide a forum in which colleges and universities can publicly respond to and allay public concerns. As an organization, the NAS does not specifically endorse or draw any final conclusions about the reports from the public, or the statements from institutions of higher education, posted on this site.
This is an excellent project for student journalists and bloggers in college towns to take on. Pay special attention to the Saudi bucks.