Georgetown University received improperly disclosed gifts and contracts from Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Qatari foreign entities, a recently released report from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos alleges.
These foreign relationships pose a risk to national security, the Department of Education says. The DOE report accuses several prominent U.S. universities — including Georgetown, Harvard University, Yale University and Stanford University — of failing to disclose several billion dollars in funding and resources from foreign donors. Georgetown officials dispute the allegations and say the report misconstrues the nature of Georgetown’s foreign relationships and financial reports.
In June 2019, DeVos initiated civil investigations into 12 universities, including Georgetown, to ensure their compliance with Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which requires institutions of higher education to transparently report foreign gifts and contracts.
The inquiries prompted institutions to “catch up” on their reporting, which has led to disclosure of $6.5 billion previously unreported foreign gifts and contracts since the investigations began, according to the report.
The report scrutinizes the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, an academic center housed in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. The ACMCU was originally established as the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in 1993 before it was renamed after Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after Georgetown received a $20 million gift in 2005 from the Saudi royal.
The ACMCU aims to promote improved understanding between Muslim and Christian communities worldwide, according to its website. However, the DOE report claims Talal’s donation “empowered the Saudi Arabian government to advance a particular narrative about Islamic society to the West via a legitimate Western institution.”
The DOE report cited a 2008 letter addressed to University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) from former Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) expressing concern that the center’s academic independence could be “compromised” by the gift. The DOE report also listed past criticism of the ACMCU “deceptively labeling itself as pluralistic” and failing to fulfill its stated mission of promoting Christian studies.
ACMCU Director John Esposito rebuked the DOE’s allegations in an email to The Hoya, writing that Georgetown has accurately filled out its financial reports.
“Georgetown carefully reviews all gifts to ensure they are in alignment with our values and our educational objectives and retains full authority over expenditure decisions,” Esposito wrote. “Unlike many other institutions, we have not had to supplement or correct any of Georgetown’s previous Section 117 reports.”
Despite the university’s compliance with Section 117, the language of the report does not make that distinction and is therefore misleading, according to Esposito. The DOE expects to close this particular investigation soon, Esposito added.
“Despite Georgetown’s full compliance with Section 117, the DoEd report lumps Georgetown with the other institutions it is investigating in ways that imply non-compliance,” Esposito wrote.
The report also criticizes an $10 million agreement between the Spring Breeze Foundation and Georgetown to support a U.S.-China dialogue initiative. The Spring Breeze Foundation is financed by CP Group, a multinational conglomerate based in Thailand, according to a university announcement from 2016. The DOE report alleges that CP Group has ties to the Chinese government. The report, however, does not offer any citations or proof of this allegation besides a 2019 news story about a contract signed by CP Group, a Chinese corporation and a host of other businesses to build a railroad connecting three airports in southern Thailand.
The report also claims that Georgetown “derived $2,369,807” through “significant intermingling with the People’s Republic of China.” This information was later redacted from the report Thursday evening.
According to a university spokesperson, the report establishes an erroneous link between academic exchange programs with the Chinese Central Party School and a figure from Georgetown’s IRS Form 990. The spokesperson said it appears that number represents expenditures by Georgetown in the East Asia and Pacific region, which encompassses more than 30 countries, rather than gifts to or contracts with Georgetown. Furthermore, approximately half of the $2.3 million represents study abroad scholarships for Georgetown students studying in the region, according to the spokesperson.
Finally, the report alleges that overseas facilities operated by U.S. universities pose a risk to national security. Campuses located in Doha, Qatar, “could harbor research laboratories and other educational resources that are almost entirely unregulated by American law,” the report asserts.
Georgetown University in Qatar opened in 2005 as part of a partnership between Georgetown and the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit that receives money from the Qatari government.
The report alleges that the Qatar Foundation prevented a Lebanese band with an openly gay lead singer from speaking on Northwestern University’s Qatar campus and that the organization censors viewpoints not endorsed by the Qatari government.
A spokesperson for GU-Q did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In response to a request for comment, the DOE sent Hoya reporters a link to the original department press release.
Esposito said the report draws incorrect conclusions about the nature of Georgetown’s foreign partnerships because it fails to consider the entire picture.
“In each of these engagements, Georgetown requires and preserves academic excellence, institutional autonomy, academic freedom and open inquiry and debate, and service to the common good,” Esposito said.