Unreported foreign funding of U.S. universities by Qatar and other authoritarian governments is linked to higher levels of campus antisemitism and a decline in free-speech norms, according to a study released on Wednesday.
The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy’s study is based on earlier research that discovered that Middle Eastern governments, as well as China and Russia, had made billions of dollars in undisclosed donations to U.S. universities from 2014 to 2019, in violation of U.S. law.
Qatar was the largest single such donor, providing $2.7 billion in concealed funds, while Harvard, Yale and Georgetown universities were among the top recipients of concealed donations.
“Because much of this undocumented money was provided by authoritarian regimes, we examined the levels and sources of such funding and the extent to which this undocumented funding correlated with a deterioration of liberal democratic norms around free speech and academic freedom, as well as antisemitism on campus,” the study authors wrote.
“Receipt of undocumented money was associated with increased levels of campus antisemitism, and this relationship was larger when the undocumented funding came from Middle Eastern/authoritarian states,” they added.
The authors noted that their study does not establish a causal relationship between the funding and increased levels of antisemitism and other illiberal behaviors—the money could cause illiberalism, or foreign regimes might be more attracted to donating to illiberal universities. But they said the prospect that U.S. institutions of higher education have been compromised by foreign funding warrants further investigation.
“This report raises the sobering possibility that international actors are using undisclosed channels to funnel large amounts of money into college campuses (including elite institutions that often have outsized influence on American culture and politics) for purposes harmful to the democratic norms of pluralism, tolerance and freedom,” per the study.
Qatar’s extensive overseas influence has received greater scrutiny in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre of 1,400 people in Israel by the Hamas terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip. Qatar hosts senior Hamas leadership and, along with Iran and Turkey, is one of Hamas’s largest annual funders.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce advanced legislation on Wednesday to lower the reporting thresholds for foreign donations to universities with co-sponsor Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Calif.) specifically citing Qatar’s efforts to influence U.S. education.
“Qatar—one of the most vocal pro-Hamas, antisemitic countries in the world—has given over $1 billion to U.S. universities from 2011 to 2016,” Steel stated. The act “is designed to increase transparency and accountability to ensure these universities follow the law in reporting these ‘donations.’”
The bill passed committee markup with a bipartisan 27-11 vote.