Stanford is one of the world’s most respected universities and one of America’s most active research institutions. As it turns out, though, the school is taking money from both the United States and China.
Big Government Money
In 2022, Stanford University researchers received more than $700 million in grant money from the National Institutes for Health and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Another Top Rank
Overall, the academic heavyweight ranked sixth among higher education institutions in the amount of federal money it received.
Where the Taxes Go
Those hefty totals put Stanford in a league with other prestigious schools like Yale and Harvard, who also drew well into nine figures of taxpayer money in the form of federal grants.
But it wasn’t just the United States government that was funding the schools, says the U.S. Justice Department.
Heavy Chinese Influence
In fact, researchers at Stanford have long had deep ties with China’s Fudan University.
Not only do researchers collaborate with each other across the institutions, but Fudan itself funds many of Stanford’s studies, according to the Justice Department.
No Big Deal…Usually
Those types of arrangements are fairly common in the academic research community and might raise eyebrows among the general public.
But it’s mostly business as usual as long as certain requirements are met.
Big Bucks, Big Problem
And that’s where the problems start for Stanford, and maybe eventually for Yale and Harvard, too.
Failure to Disclose
According to the Justice Department, Stanford researchers who were collaborating with or at least partially funded by Fudan failed to disclose that information when applying for federal grants between 2015 and 2020.
G-Men Came Calling
And that failure to report landed the university in hot water with the federal government.
The Government Wanted Its Money
It was a bad enough violation, in fact, and one repeated often enough, that the Justice Department decided to sue Stanford.
They Pled No Contest
In the end, the two sides reached a settlement agreement. Stanford will admit no wrongdoing but will repay the federal government about $2 million.
A Mere Pittance
That’s a pittance compared to the amount of grant money Stanford received over that five-year period, some of it obtained even while they were negotiating the settlement.
China Is Dangerous
It seems like a slap on the wrist to some in the know, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, who has repeatedly warned universities about the dangers of working closely with Chinese institutions.
They Have to Be Careful
Many of those projects relate directly to subject matter that could impact national security, and it’s imperative that academic investigators work to protect U.S. interests, says Wray.
They Pledge Allegiance
That’s especially true with projects involving Fudan, which doubled down on its nationalistic ambitions by pledging its allegiance “to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Alarm Bells Are Sounding
Of course, with China’s communist ally Vladimir Putin fighting to expand Russia’s borders and with the general secrecy around China’s own military ambitions, those aren’t necessarily comforting words for Americans.
A Higher Standard for Higher Ed
Academics may think that their research is pure and will only be used for good.
But former investigative counsel for the U.S. Department of Education Paul R. Moore says in an opinion piece for The Hill that universities need to be held to a higher standard.
Closing the Academic Borders
The time is now, says Moore, for the federal government to start bringing down punishments harsh enough to make sure researchers get the message about the importance of reporting their ties to China.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.