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Still unclear why university expelled 15 Chinese researchers

The University of North Texas has said only that the decision followed briefings by federal and local law enforcement
Sarina Neote
September 23, 2020

Members of the University of North Texas community are seeking an explanation for the expulsion of 15 Chinese researchers in late August.

The university notified 15 Chinese scholars on Aug. 26 that it had severed ties with the Chinese Scholarship Council, which funded these scholars. As a result, the researchers’ visas were revoked by the State Department, and the scholars were told they must leave the country as soon as possible.

About 40,000 students attend the University of North Texas.

The CSC provides scholarships for people to attend Chinese universities and for Chinese researchers to conduct research internationally. The funding is provided through the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China “to further strengthen the communication and cooperation between China and other countries,” according to the program website.

Jim Berscheidt, vice president of UNT’s brand strategy and communications, told ASBMB Today via email: “The decision ... is limited to 15 visiting researchers funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council, and does not impact any Chinese student enrolled and studying at the university. In fact, UNT took this action based upon specific and credible information following detailed briefings from federal and local law enforcement.”

The Denton Record–Chronicle previously asked for additional details about the briefings by law enforcement. However, UNT declined to specify which agencies conducted the briefings and did not provide more information. A spokesperson from the FBI’s Dallas office declined to comment for the newspaper.

The university hasn't released a list of the scholars' names or areas of study or research.

Yuheng Lian, a UNT graduate, launched an online petition urging the university to reconsider or at least explain its decision. Lian also said that the researchers were struggling to find airline tickets to leave the U.S. amid the pandemic and rising costs. “As we all know, we are in such a tough pandemic period and (it) is very hard to just buy another ticket to go back to China within a month,” the petition stated.

The UNT expulsions come as the Trump administration continues to target Chinese students studying in the U.S.

In June, President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation restricting the entry of Chinese students on F or J visas to study or conduct research in the U.S. The proclamation alleges that China enlists “some Chinese students, mostly post-graduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property.”

The Trump administration also suspended new green card applications from abroad and blocked thousands of guest worker visas.

Sarina Neote

Sarina Neote is ASBMB's science policy manager.

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