University leaders at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have expressed concern over the U.S. government’s scrutiny and stigmatization of faculty members, post-docs, research staff and students of Chinese descent.
On Tuesday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote a letter to the university community and urged the government not to create a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear.
Reif said that such incidents corrode the community’s collaborative strength and open-hearted ideals.
“To hear such reports from Chinese and Chinese-American colleagues is heartbreaking,” Reif wrote in the letter. “Looking at cases across the nation, small numbers of researchers of Chinese background may indeed have acted in bad faith, but they are the exception and very far from the rule.”
He also lauded Chinese scholars, teachers, mentors, inventors and entrepreneurs for their exceptional contributions to American society.
Lately, the U.S. has been alarmed by China’s influence on higher education institutes across the country. Earlier this year, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations compiled a report on China-funded Confucius Institutes and found that the Chinese government has spent more than $150 million on the institutes over the last decade to limit criticism of its political policies in America.
The subcommittee’s probe lasted eight months and found that the Chinese institutes threaten academic freedom by having access to the American educational system. Investigators also reported that many U.S. schools failed to properly report the contributions they received from the Chinese government to fund the Confucius Institutes.
This was followed by two bills introduced by lawmakers in the Senate which call to stop the theft of sensitive American research from Chinese intelligence and to prohibit students from receiving student or research visas to the U.S. who are employed or sponsored by institutions linked with the Chinese military.
Concerned over deteriorating diplomatic ties, China’s Ministry of Education warned its citizens about problems they may encounter when studying and traveling in the U.S. The government also warned its students about possible visa delays and denials.
This was followed by another warning from China’s foreign ministry, cautioning Chinese citizens traveling to the U.S. to raise their safety awareness in regards to heightened scrutiny from U.S. law enforcement such as immigration checks and home interviews.