July 13, 2023 | Congressional Testimony

Exposing the Dangers of the Influence of Foreign Adversaries on College Campuses

July 13, 2023 | Congressional Testimony

Exposing the Dangers of the Influence of Foreign Adversaries on College Campuses

Hearing video

July 13, 2023


of full written testimony


Chairman Owens, Ranking Member Wilson, and distinguished members of this subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify about foreign adversary influence on U.S. college campuses. I am pleased to provide relevant research and policy insights from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan research institute, where I serve as a senior fellow.

Today, foreign adversary nations are engaged in far-reaching campaigns to exploit the United States’ open, collaborative nature in furtherance of their strategic, military, and economic goals. Nowhere is this threat more acute than on U.S. college campuses. China, Russia, Iran, and other authoritarian regimes fully recognize that the United States’ higher education system underpins America’s innovation, science and technology leadership, and economic competitiveness. In taking advantage of opaque, often-unregulated academic exchanges, these nations and their state- backed companies stand to circumvent the massive costs and accompanying risks associated with conducting their own research and development — all at the expense of the United States, its allies, and its partners.

The threat posed by these adversarial actors extends well beyond technology transfer and intellectual property theft as a means to enhance their composite national strength. Increasingly, America’s adversaries are also leveraging their unfettered access to U.S. college campuses to stifle free speech protections, monitor student activities, and propagate disinformation and other false narratives. As a result, these countries have succeeded in weaponizing such access to sow social division, undermine faith in public institutions, and restrict open discourse. These and other brazen activities pose significant challenges to academic freedom and, if left unchecked, threaten to seriously erode the integrity of America’s academic ideals.

No doubt, openness, freedom, and diversity represent fundamental pillars of our democracy and serve as intrinsic strengths of the United States and our way of life. Maintaining America’s competitive edge thus hinges on a shared commitment to open academic and scientific exchange. But so, too, must we embrace common-sense measures to protect our intellectual capital and discourage its misappropriation as well as to counter authoritarian attempts to promote on- campus censorship and intimidation. The key then is to strike an appropriate balance between preserving our values and protecting U.S. national security as we enter this renewed era of great- power competition.

Despite the scope and intensity of the threat, the United States has, in my view, never been better positioned than it is today to tackle these and other emerging challenges on campus. One reason: members of Congress, working on a bipartisan basis, have in recent years instituted a number of significant measures aimed at inoculating America’s higher education system from the corrosive actions of China and other countries. Those efforts included passing legislation prohibiting U.S. universities hosting Chinese government-supported Confucius Institutes (CIs) from receiving Defense Department funding for Chinese language study. This lone provision in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 led to a dramatic decrease in the number of CIs operating across the United States, from a high of 113 in 2018 to 10 today.

Notwithstanding growing bipartisan alarm and action, the Chinese government and other authoritarian actors have nevertheless embraced ever-more sophisticated means to deepen their influence and access throughout American academia. Even worse, obtaining a complete and accurate understanding of these activities has been severely hindered by weak, often contradictory, regulatory oversight and long-standing transparency gaps at the federal and state levels. If left unaddressed, the economic and strategic losses stemming from these systemic deficiencies risk undermining America’s commercial and military advantages. More troubling, however, is that these malign activities stand to jeopardize the ability of faculty, staff, and students to debate ideas freely without fear of intimidation and retribution by hostile foreign nations and/or their on-campus proxies.

Of course, the United States is not alone in facing these complicated challenges. Indeed, Washington has much to learn from the collective experiences of other democracies, including Australia, which are waging similar campaigns to combat malign influence throughout their higher education systems. Policymakers in Washington also stand to gain from lessons learned at the state level, particularly in Florida, where the state legislature unanimously passed first-of-its- kind legislation aimed at protecting post-secondary institutions and their students from the evolving threat posed by adversarial “countries of concern.”

Read the full written testimony here.


Full written testimony