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University firings raise tensions in academia

By Zhang Ruinan in New York and Zhang Yangfei in Beijing | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-31 03:24

'Extremely hazardous'

Huang Yasheng, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: "From my perspective, there shouldn't be national boundaries in academia. Sharing of knowledge and cooperation between scientific researchers of different backgrounds are often key contributors to significant academic accomplishments.

"US academic institutions should definitely act against the Trump administration's 'clash of civilizations' view, and protect the human rights and academic freedoms of any scientists — including Chinese-American ones."

Calling the US administration's view of Chinese academics "extremely hazardous", Huang noted the significance of international, especially Chinese scholars and researchers, in US academia.

He said that, for example, the National Academy of Science this year elected two scientists of Chinese nationality as members and two as foreign associates. Overall, more than 100 Chinese nationals have been elected academy members.

Huang said membership of the academy is just the tip of the iceberg regarding Chinese scientists' presence in US academia. At MIT, some 40 percent of the faculty is non-US nationals, with Chinese constituting the largest proportion.

"I do believe that the US government has the responsibility and obligation to protect the nation's security and interest, but as far as I'm concerned, in no case are Chinese scientists clearly affecting US national security, so far."

He said the central questions in recent cases related to Chinese scholars are most likely technical issues such as the disclosure of research funding sources, which are not rare cases in academia, certainly not among Chinese scholars.

Huang added, "Chinese scholars have made great contributions to US academia and are inseparable from it."

A recent open letter coauthored by 18 scientists from the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, the Chinese American Hematologist and Oncologist Network and the Chinese Biological Investigators Society expressed concerns about the recent political rhetoric and policies that "single out students and scholars of Chinese descent working in the US as threats to the US".

The letter added, "These developments have led to confusion, fear and frustration among these highly dedicated professionals, who are in danger of being singled out for scapegoating, stereotyping and racial profiling."

Open data access and data sharing are important for accelerating research advancement and can be implemented without putting US security at risk, the group said, adding, "Most Chinese-American scientists believe that biomedical research benefits all mankind, and multinational collaborations accelerate scientific progress and discovery."

Jiang Ying, a researcher at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, said, "This is probably not the first time that a US research institute has ousted Chinese or Chinese-American researchers or shut down their laboratories, but it is hard to comment on this matter at the moment or judge who is responsible for it.

"In the area of medical research, we still hope to have multiple centers that involve different races. We need cooperation like this because science is a human community, so cooperation should be promoted. The intrusion of politics will hinder the development of science."

Kang Ruiqing, a researcher from the University of Science and Technology Beijing, said the current policies of the US "are not doing any good to scientific cooperation".

"Scientists in both countries should not be scapegoats for the ups and downs in the two countries' relationship," Kang said.

Yale University President Peter Salovey said in an open letter sent to students and faculty, "In recent weeks, tensions in United States-China relations and increased scrutiny of academic exchanges have added to a sense of unease among many international students and scholars here at Yale and at universities across the country."

Salovey affirmed his university's "steadfast commitment" to its foreign talent and added, "Openness — a key to the extraordinary success of America's great research universities — must remain a hallmark of Yale."

Frank H. Wu, chairman of the Committee of 100, an organization of Chinese-Americans, said, "Scientific progress has long been based on the open exchange of ideas," adding that the "recent changes of norms in the US" have surprised many Chinese researchers working in the country.

"It's important for all professors from all backgrounds to be aware of these new rules," Wu added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a briefing in Beijing on Monday that personnel and cultural exchanges "should not be politicized and interfered with".

"This is inconsistent with the aspirations of the two peoples and has caused widespread concern among academic circles in China and the United States, and all sectors of society," Lu said.

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