Following Up: Students from China at IU

December 13, 2020

LAST SUMMER the Indiana Policy Review released a series of papers reporting on the 3,000 students from China enrolled at Indiana University and why they were more of a national-security concern than typical foreign students. This Friday, a congressman-elect, a former member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, described such students as acting “like a spy network.”

First, some background on why students from China deserve a careful look. Charles Lee is a Chinese dissident who came to the United States in 1991 to attend Harvard Medical School and was imprisoned in China for three years when he went back. He now lives in New Jersey where he helps lead the Tuidang movement, to educate Chinese about the true nature of communism.

He told us that China strictly controls who gets to go abroad, and who does not. “Here’s the thing,” he said in a phone interview in June, “If you are a Chinese student inside China, and he or she views something against Communist Party, he’s not going to be able to get out. He going to be in trouble, unless he confess, you know sort of confess, you know write something, ‘I will never criticize Communist Party’ or something like that . . .”

Lee says almost all students from China — most likely 99 percent, he says — have either been in the Young Pioneers or the Youth League, two Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organizations for young people.

The cost for a foreign undergraduate student to attend IU is about $53,408 a year, our white paper estimated. This is the amount of money that IU estimates they’ll need for nine months of school and living expenses. It includes $38,314 for tuition and fees (the same amount that out-of-state students pay), plus $11,263 for room and board, $1,585 for health insurance and $2,246 for books and miscellaneous expenses. 

In the 2019-2020 academic year, students from China together paid just over $80 million to IU Bloomington in tuition and fees alone. This is close to half the total amount of funding that IU Bloomington gets from the state of Indiana each year, which is around $200 million.

This boost to the IU budget comes at a cost. Representative-elect Darrell Issa of California told Fox News Friday that it amounts to a spy network, part of the same national-security threat that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned governors and university trustees about last year. 

“China has a three-tiered program,” Issa told Fox News. “They have professional spies, they have their various companies that they send over that act like spies, and then they have a network of tens of thousands of students, who are, in fact, interrogated when they go home for the summer and whose families are still in China.”

“You put that all together, it’s not just a few spies,” Issa continued, “it’s hundreds of thousands of people that act like spies that are coordinated by China. It’s aggressive. It isn’t just looking at government. It’s also looking at every part of our enterprise, every part of our business operations.” 

Of concern here is why after almost six months there has been no response from Indiana University or Purdue University (with similar enrollment numbers). Margaret Menge, the author of the foundation’s primary paper, had to file a lawsuit against IU to get even basic background material. 

Obviously, the IU budget would take an $80-million hit if students from China were denied admission. And the IU campus culture is generally sympathetic to China to the point that sino-critics are shouted down during campus talks.

But the official silence on the CCP connection cannot be dismissed as a matter of routine public-relations reticence. Indiana citizens deserve to know whether their large state universities are doing their part to vet overseas students, particularly those pledged to a hostile power. 

National security is not something that the president of IU can compromise to pad a budget. — tcl


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