Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Stolen Secrets?

From Inside Higher Ed:

SAN DIEGO -- Some of the university research administrators in the audience seemed loaded for bear, ready to scold the Trump administration officials in front of them for what many academics have perceived to be racial profiling of Chinese scientists in recent months.

Roger Wakimoto, vice president for research at the University of California, Los Angeles, didn't soft-pedal the issue as he introduced the session on science and security here Monday at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

"We've been told repeatedly that this is a partnership," Wakimoto said of the effort to "protect U.S. science from undue foreign influence," as the session was titled. "If this is a partnership, stopping our faculty at the airport is not acceptable."

Over the course of the next hour, what might have been an uncomfortably confrontational situation took a different course. It's not that the campus administrators in the room didn't express their displeasure about the treatment of some Chinese faculty members and graduate students. They did, sometimes eloquently. But two things averted what might have been a train wreck. First, the officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (who noted that they were at the meeting on a federal holiday that would otherwise have been a day off, which won them some points) emphasized that -- despite the positions they hold and message they were delivering -- they were colleagues with those in the audience...

The presentation by (Jodi) Black of the NIH was especially jarring...

Her presentation was complete with slides (which she asked attendees not to share) containing documents showing that participants in the Chinese government's talent-recruitment program were openly told not to tell their U.S. university employers about the program, not to report their intellectual property to their U.S. institutions, and they were being paid in many cases for time commitments of six to 10 months -- arguably making it difficult if not impossible for them to do their U.S. jobs. The endgame for these arrangements: to move their labs to China, in the meantime extracting information from the labs' work back to China...

One research administrator joined Wakimoto in pressing the federal officials directly on whether their efforts to clamp down on scientific security was resulting in unfair treatment of individuals -- and of a broader "chilling effect" on foreign scholars and graduate students, especially from China.

She recounted stories of one University of California, Berkeley, scientist who had been taken off a flight at Newark International Airport and made to feel "like a spy," and a Harvard University scholar who had been questioned aggressively upon return from China. (Both are American citizens of Chinese heritage.)

"Obviously there is a threat, that is clear," said the research administrator. But "how is this being communicated to the front-line people" at airports and other entry points?" she asked the federal officials. "Not everyone is a bad actor, but there could be some racial profiling happening."...

Full story at

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