As President Joe Biden’s nomination of University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann as ambassador to Germany proceeds in the U.S. Senate, a new book reveals that financial support from communist China to her university nearly tripled after the school established its Biden Center four years ago.
The flow of dollars from People’s Republic of China entities to Penn has already fueled contentiousness about Gutmann’s nomination. In a November letter to Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) expressed their concern regarding the amount of money the university has accepted from Chinese institutions and companies. Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) has since come out against Gutmann’s prospective appointment and has cited the $86 million in Chinese contributions and contracts that Penn has received since 2014.
Now, reports surrounding a new book by Peter Schweizer, president of the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute, are underscoring the revelation that Chinese support for the school got significantly more generous after the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement opened in 2018. In the three years prior to the center’s launch, dollars from mainland China received by the university totaled roughly $15 million. In the three years following the center’s establishment, Chinese donations and contract payouts to Penn were around $60 million. The creation of the center coincided with Joe Biden becoming Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at Penn, a position for which he reportedly received $900,000 in compensation.
“…The flow of money to the University of Pennsylvania should raise some eyebrows and offer cause as to who is financing the Biden Center’s Operations,” Schweizer wrote in Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win. “One trend is unmistakable: after the Biden Center’s announcement that it was opening at the University of Pennsylvania, donations from the Chinese mainland to Penn almost tripled.”
According to the Biden Center’s website, the think tank was founded to promote “a democratic, open, secure, tolerant, and interconnected world [that] benefits all Americans.” As Schweizer notes in his book, writings contained on the site raise essentially no alarm about security or diplomatic challenges posed by China—a nation whose nuclear arsenal, hegemonic ambitions and poor human-rights record have caused worry among many foreign-policy observers. This worry only grown in the wake of COVID-19 which many believe originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan.
At a December 14 confirmation hearing, Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) introduced Gutmann and voiced their support for her nomination. They could not be reached for comment on Schweizer’s revelations. At this writing, the White House and the Biden Center also did not provide comment.
During the hearing, Risch and Rubio questioned Gutmann about Chinese payments to her university. When The Pennsylvania Daily Star asked for reaction to Schweizer’s reporting, the two senators’ offices referred to their earlier statements on Gutmann’s selection for the ambassadorship.
“The issue of foreign influence, and particularly Chinese influence, in U.S. higher education institutions is very important to this committee,” Risch said after casting a ‘no’ committee vote. “And I’ve worked with the chairman on this to pursue efforts to put a stop to this and it’s important we do so…. The University of Pennsylvania is a large organization, but I remain troubled that Dr. Gutmann did not exert more oversight of Chinese donations and contracts that Penn institutions were accepting. I think this is really a poster child for what is happening around the country.”
Rubio, Cruz and Johnson have attempted to ascertain whether Gutmann personally signed off on Chinese contributions to Penn, whether Chinese institutions had any expectations regarding the expenditure of their money and if the university steered any of those dollars to the Biden Center. During her hearing, Gutmann said she did not directly administer the funds in question.
“At minimum, it is critical to establish whether Dr. Gutmann was involved in any quid pro quo tied to Biden’s salary and whether Dr. Gutmann is compromised given the massive influx of Chinese funds into the University,” the three Senators wrote in their letter on the nomination.
Gutmann’s nomination awaits a vote of the full Senate.
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