DETERRENT Act Addresses Transparency In Funding For Higher Education

House Republicans took a significant step forward in protecting transparency in funding sources in higher education last week with the introduction of the Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions (DETERRENT) Act.

The measure introduced by Rep. Michelle Steele (R-CA) and House Education and Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is proposed as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. It is specifically designed to address concerns about the source of foreign funds making their way into American colleges and universities.

The bill’s sponsors believe that Americans should be aware of the extent to which potentially adverse foreign nations are purchasing influence in U.S. schools. In the factual findings reported in support of the legislation, lawmakers point out that there has been an alarming rise in the instances of unreported foreign investments in U.S. schools.

The shocking lack of transparency has led to serious questions about the integrity of the institutions and their leaders who might be compromised due to substantial foreign contributions. In 2020 alone, the Department of Education operating in the Trump administration found that more than $6.5 billion of untracked foreign money was funneled into various U.S. schools.

The DETERRENT Act aims to bring accountability to American schools. It imposes new and more stringent reporting requirements regarding foreign gifts. The legislation would impose a minimum fine of $50,000 for a first-time offense if enacted. Subsequent offenses would carry a maximum $100,000 fine for each violation.

The DETERRENT Act has garnered some bipartisan support from some House Democrats. However, the progressive critics of the bill, including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), claim it will have unwanted impacts on “global research partnerships.” It remains to be seen how simple reporting requirements and increased transparency could harm legitimate international research missions.

In support of the measure, Foxx said, “Greater accountability in foreign gift reporting at colleges and universities is desperately needed.”

The danger that U.S. universities might go further in promoting a globalist and leftist worldview rather than fostering independent critical thinking calls to mind a quote from George Orwell: The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

The debate around the DETERRENT Act, especially in the Democrat-controlled Senate, will center on the balance between national security concerns and the goal of protecting academic freedom in higher education. The bill’s simple mandates could help Americans know whose interests American schools serve if they accept substantial foreign money.