FILE - Purdue University

Purdue Welcome Center at Purdue University.

(The Center Square) – The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill this spring that requires all public universities in the state to report on their ties to foreign countries and to show what they’re doing to protect intellectual property from being stolen or misused “by a foreign government or other foreign entity.”

House Bill 1549 appears to be a first step toward addressing a concern about large numbers of students from China at the state’s public universities – in particular Indiana University and Purdue University – and the threat some say is posed by China’s efforts to access advanced research being done at America’s top universities.

Under the new law, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education must prepare a report for the legislature on “foreign malfeasance” at public universities in the state, and those public universities are directed to provide full information to the commission.

That information is to include a description of the university’s export control program.

“Export controls” refers to the federal laws that prohibit universities from sharing research with foreign students or foreign entities that is related to military technology, space exploration or involves biological materials or chemicals – for national security reasons.

In August 2020, a Chinese man who was a PhD student at Indiana University studying computer science on the main campus in Bloomington was arrested by the FBI and charged with lying on his visa application about his military status. He was in fact a Chinese military officer with the People’s Liberation Army (PLO). Investigators said the man, Kaikai Zhao, had specifically worked to gain entry into the United States to do high-end research to benefit the PLO, and indicated the research he’d helped produce at IU on military radar technology was transferred to a Chinese university, which had applied for a patent for it.

As of the fall of 2019, there were 2,295 students from China studying at Indiana University who together paid a total of $80 million to the university in tuition and fees.

Purdue University had more than 3,000 students from China in the fall of 2019.

The section of the new law on foreign malfeasance also has a requirement that public universities in the state report to the Commission for Higher Education on what they are doing to comply with the requirements of the “insider threat program.”

Universities like Indiana University and Purdue that handle sensitive and classified information have a special clearance through the Department of Defense. To maintain this clearance, they must have a program in place to identify potential threats posed by someone inside the organization. It requires universities with a clearance to “detect and mitigate the impact of insiders who pose a risk to classified information.”

Purdue University’s employee training on its Insider Threat Program has a theme of “if you see something, say something,” encouraging university employees to report suspicious activities in the workplace.

HB 1549 passed the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously in late April and passed the Indiana Senate by a vote of 32 to 17. It was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 29.

The law requires the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to prepare three reports by Nov. 1, 2021: One on Free Speech, one on lowering the cost of college tuition and fees, and the third on foreign malfeasance. Public universities and colleges in the state are directed to supply the information to the commission that is needed for the reports.

The law applies to all public institutions of higher education in the state: Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State University, Vincennes University, the University of Southern Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College.

The commission’s report, the law says, must include “a summary description of policies, procedures and other measures to protect personal data, research data, intellectual property, and controlled unclassified information or classified information from being appropriated or misused by a foreign government or other foreign entity.”

In addition to specific information on export controls and the university’s insider threats program, the report must include a description of each university’s compliance with foreign gift reporting requirements; a description of each university’s compliance with federal laws prohibiting contracting with “certain foreign entities” using “certain telecommunications and video surveillance services and equipment” and “a summary of each state educational institution’s  business arrangements with foreign entities, excluding business arrangements pertaining to non-technology procurement.”

The law says that the Commission for Higher Education “may include” recommendations to the legislature for how to better protect research produced by public universities from being taken or misused by foreign countries.

A call to the spokesman for Indiana University was not immediately returned. At Purdue, no one was available to comment on Friday afternoon about how the university is planning to comply with the new law.