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MIT Leader Warns of 'Toxic Atmosphere' for Chinese Researchers

June 27, 2019
 
 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology President L. Rafael Reif warned against creating a toxic atmosphere for ethnically Chinese researchers in a sharp message sent to the campus via email on Tuesday.

Reif wrote in response to rising concerns in Washington about alleged Chinese efforts to steal American intellectual property.

"As head of an institute that includes MIT Lincoln Laboratory, I could not take national security more seriously. I am well aware of the risks of academic espionage, and MIT has established prudent policies to protect against such breaches," Reif wrote.

"But in managing these risks, we must take great care not to create a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear. 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. Yet faculty members, post-docs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge -- because of their Chinese ethnicity alone."

Reif added that the "distress of these colleagues" should be seen "as part of an increasingly loud signal the U.S. is sending to the world."

"Protracted visa delays. Harsh rhetoric against most immigrants and a range of other groups, because of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin," Reif wrote. "Together, such actions and policies have turned the volume all the way up on the message that the U.S. is closing the door -- that we no longer seek to be a magnet for the world's most driven and creative individuals. I believe this message is not consistent with how America has succeeded. I am certain it is not how the Institute has succeeded. And we should expect it to have serious long-term costs for the nation and for MIT."

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