Florida’s governor wants to stop colleges from taking money from “concerning countries,” including China

Dive Card:

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

Dive Insight:

The universities’ foreign contracts and gifts were not much scrutinized until former President Donald Trump took over the White House. The former president prioritized enforcement of a federal law known as Section 117, focusing on clearing the institutions’ ties to China.

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

It was a relatively unclear mandate until the Trump administration began launching investigations into high-profile institutions and their reporting practices. Trump officials later claimed to have discovered billions of dollars in previously secret donations to colleges. They also issued a comprehensive checklist to colleagues that must be followed when 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 that mandated public and private colleges to report gifts worth $50,000 or more from foreign entities.

That law also targeted the seven “countries of concern” and prohibited 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’ ties to Confucius Institutes, educational organizations affiliated with colleges and supported by the Chinese government.

The Confucius Institutes have fallen out of favor in recent years as policy makers closely scrutinized China’s influence in domestic affairs. Most have closed in the US

DeSantis said in a statement that even donations from some foreign sources under $50,000 can “undermine academic integrity, distort the perspectives of many students, and affect the research and writing of many professors.”

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

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