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Law firm says China’s Thousand Talents Program exposes new risks for universities

By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

Attorneys from JD Supra have issued an advisory regarding university faculty involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, while also recommending specific steps for compliance with federal laws and regulations.

The advisory points out that there are more than 200 talent recruitment programs in China, though Thousand Talents the most prominent. The focus among universities, the firm advises, should be on compliance given the enforcement activity among federal agencies including the Department of Justice.

In a recent report on China’s talent recruitment programs and their use as conduits to university IP, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations stated that “U.S. universities . . . must take responsibility in addressing this threat. If U.S. universities can vet employees for scientific rigor or allegations of plagiarism, they can also vet for financial conflicts of interests and foreign source funding.”

The JD Supra advisor notes that “in the current environment, it is more important than ever for universities to implement effective compliance programs,” noting the just last month DOJ updated its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs guidance, which applies to universities.

They recommend a thorough assessment of university compliance programs, along with revisions to address the updated DOJ compliance guidance. The factors regulators will consider in assessing the program’s design include:

  • Are risks effectively identified, assessed, and addressed?
  • Are resources properly apportioned to respond to identified risks?
  • Are the policies, procedures, and controls (such as a code of conduct) readily available to faculty and staff?
  • Is there adequate training and communication regarding compliance requirements?
  • Are there confidential reporting mechanisms and methods to conduct investigations?

DOJ requires that the program be adequately resourced and empowered, the attorneys add. “This is the area where the DOJ compliance guide has changed the most, and universities should focus their assessment on these recent changes,” they note. “One of the primary considerations here is the role and participation of university leadership. The university presidents, vice presidents, chancellors, deans, and department heads need to set the tone by articulating the importance of compliance, ethics, and accountability.”

Another change is more emphasis on compliance personnel having “access to relevant sources of data,” both internal and external. The DOJ compliance guide also stresses the importance of maintaining consistent enforcement of clear disciplinary procedures throughout the organization.

The JD Supra attorneys note that tenured faculty represent a particular challenge when it comes to discipline, and should be considered by the university as part of its risk assessment.

A discovery of misconduct does not mean that a university’s compliance program is not effective, and DOJ will consider factors such as “whether and how the misconduct was detected, what investigation resources were in place to investigate suspected misconduct, and the nature and thoroughness of the [university’s] remedial efforts.” When problems are discovered, they must be remediated and changes implemented to avoid recurrence.

According to JD Supra, universities are “in the crosshairs” of foreign espionage efforts and face unprecedented risks. “A university’s failure to implement an effective compliance program could result in serious damage to academic reputation, diminished financial position, assessment of civil penalties (including False Claim Act penalties and treble damages), and possibly criminal punishment.”

Source: JD Supra

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