Amid diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and China, Emory University has fired two of its professors for failing to disclose funding from and ties to Chinese institutions.
According to Science magazine, the university ousted neuroscientists Li Xiao-Jiang and his wife, Li Shihua, who are Chinese-Americans. The school shut down their laboratory after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) flagged their financial ties with Chinese institutions. The university has also asked four postdoctoral students working in the lab to leave the country within 30 days.
On Thursday, the university issued a statement claiming that “two of its faculty members named as key personnel on NIH [National Institute of Health] grant awards to Emory University had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China.”
Both Li and his wife were well known for researching Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder causing a loss of cognition, emotional problems and uncontrolled movements.
The move comes after the NIH started an investigation into 56 institutions last year to uncover if any NIH-funded researchers had ties with foreign institutions. The agency has made it compulsory for grant recipients to disclose if they receive funds from foreign entities.
“We are concerned about circumstances where people have intentionally been deceptive about those connections, with an intention to divert intellectual property or perhaps use their access to peer-review materials to ship them overseas,” Francis Collins, director of the NIH, told reporters after a Senate hearing last April.
Meanwhile, both of the professors have refuted the allegations against them and have accused the university of not giving them an opportunity to adequately respond.
“I was shocked that Emory University would terminate a tenured professor in such an unusual and abrupt fashion and close our combined lab consisting of a number of graduates and postdoctoral trainees without giving me specific details for the reasons behind my termination,” Li Xiao-Jiang said in a statement.
Xiao-Jiang further denied the allegations of not disclosing his foreign ties, saying that he continuously kept the university updated on his Chinese research involvement since 2012.
“I have provided documents requested by Emory University during the investigation of my research activity in China since early November 2018,” he said.
Earlier this month, five Republicans introduced a bill to Congress requiring the Trump administration to develop a list of scientific and engineering institutions affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to ensure that U.S. universities are not sharing sensitive information with China’s military.
The bill further calls to prohibit students from receiving student or research visas to the United States who are employed or sponsored by institutions linked with the Chinese military.