Florida governor wants to stop colleges from taking money from ‘countries of concern,’ including China

Dive Brief:

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said he will propose legislation that would ban colleges in the state from accepting money from seven “countries of concern,” including China. 
  • The other countries DeSantis said pose a threat are Cuba, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela, all of which his office described as having “nefarious intentions.”
  • DeSantis said the bill could also impose other restrictions or “pre-conditions” on researchers from the seven countries. The governor did not specify what those additional limitations would be. 

Dive Insight:

Colleges’ foreign contracts and gifts weren’t much under the microscope until former President Donald Trump took over the White House. The former president prioritized enforcement of a federal law known as Section 117, with a focus on weeding out institutions’ ties to China. 

Section 117 is part of the Higher Education Act, the primary vehicle for postsecondary education policy. It requires institutions to report foreign donations totaling $250,000 or more in a year.

It was a relatively obscure mandate until the Trump administration started opening investigations into high-profile institutions and their reporting practices. Trump officials later alleged they had uncovered billions of dollars in previously undisclosed donations to colleges. They also issued a comprehensive checklist colleges needed to follow in reporting foreign gifts. 

The Trump administration’s anti-China rhetoric spread to states, and DeSantis took up that mantle. Last year, DeSantis signed a law ordering public and private colleges to report gifts worth $50,000 or more from foreign entities. 

That law also targeted the seven “countries of concern,” forbidding public institutions from entering into certain agreements with them. 

His office described last year’s legislation as a “naming and shaming approach,” intended to expose colleges’ links to Confucius Institutes, educational organizations affiliated with colleges and supported by the Chinese government. 

Confucius Institutes have fallen out of favor in recent years as policymakers more closely scrutinized China’s influence in domestic affairs. Most have closed in the U.S.

DeSantis said in a statement that even donations from certain foreign sources under $50,000 can “undercut academic integrity, warp the perspectives of many students, and sway the research and writing of many professors.”

Florida’s legislative session begins in March. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature.

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