Professor at Emory Univ. seeks legal support amid US probe into academics’ ties to China

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Professor at Emory University seeks legal support amid US probe into academics’ ties to China
  • Yu Shan Ping says he was asked by his medical school in Atlanta, Georgia to vacate his office by the end of June
  • Academic says he is concerned after two of his colleagues were sacked last month
By Keegan Elmer  

Two academics at Emory University in the US were sacked for allegedly failing to disclose their sources of financing and research ties to China. Photo: Wikimedia

A professor of Chinese ethnicity at an American university is seeking legal advice amid an investigation by the FBI and other organisations aimed at exposing Chinese influence in US state-funded science and research that last month led to the sacking of two of his colleagues.

Yu Shan Ping is a professor of anaesthesiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has worked since 2008. Despite being tenured, he said he was recently asked by his medical school to vacate his office by the end of June and told that the university planned to move his research laboratory.

“I’m looking for legal help and welcome any recommendations,” he told the South China Morning Post. “My plan will depend on what the school does next.”

His comments came amid a nationwide inquiry into the links “Chinese” academics working in the United States might have to Beijing, an inquiry that has sparked criticism from universities that say it has created a climate of fear.

Yu Shan Ping says he is looking for legal advice. Photo: Emory University

In March, Yu and several of his colleagues wrote to Emory University president Claire Sterk, urging her to join the heads of University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University in condemning the targeting of faculty over their ties to China.

“We noticed that disturbing views and activities seen at UC Berkeley and Stanford also exist on Emory campus, which negatively derides Emory faculty members and international visitors, especially those of Chinese origin,” the letter said, a copy of which was seen by the Post.


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Last month, two of the letter’s signatories, Li Xiaojiang and Li Shihua – a married couple who worked in the field of genetics at Emory – were sacked for allegedly failing to disclose their sources of financing and research ties to China.

The couple were targeted in connection with an investigation by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the primary agency of the US government responsible for biomedical and public health research.

Emory reported last month sharing with the NIH that two of its faculty members, whom it did not name, had “failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China”.

The Lis’ identities – both of whom are naturalised US citizens – was later revealed on the Chinese science and education media platform Zhishi Fenzi.

Emory spokesman Vincent Dollard told Science magazine this week that the university’s actions regarding Yu were in accordance with standard procedure.

“The medical school is actively working on different options for Dr Yu’s office and lab space,” he said.

Li Xiaojiang (left) and Li Shihua were sacked by Emory University last month. Photo: Handout

The United States has stepped up its scrutiny of Chinese academics amid growing suspicion about their possible links to Beijing and its state-owned enterprises. The latest investigation has led to the resignation of several scientists at the NIH.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that American researcher Xu Xifeng left her post at the Centre for Translational and Public Health Genomics at the University of Texas in January following a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NIH into whether she had supported cancer research projects in China.

US Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the committee that oversees the NIH, has led the effort to expose Chinese influence in US state-funded science and research.

This week, he and Republican Senator Marco Rubio sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services asking it to review payments made to US entities by the Chinese government or Chinese companies.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US professor seeks legal advice amid probe into China ties






自2008年到埃默里大学工作以来,于向平一直担任讲席教授。他告诉澎湃新闻,不明白“为何学校以这种方式对待终身教授”, “我不可能在没有办公室的情况下继续研究和教学。我认为这是他们希望我离开的第一步。”他说道。

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此前据《科学》杂志13日报道,埃默里医学院院长Vikas Sukhatme在6月11日回复于山平的电子邮件中称,“你的实验室空间正在调整”,但写道“该决定不会受到你签署的信件或你的种族的影响”。目前,于山平与三名学生和一名在实验室工作的博士后共用办公室。



目前,埃默里大学尚未回应澎湃新闻的相关问询。而据《科学》杂志报道,埃默里大学发言人Vincent Dollard在一份声明中表示,“埃默里大学和医学院赞赏于博士的贡献。对他的实验室空间的调整符合医学院的政策,医学院正在积极为于博士的办公室和实验室空间找寻不同的选择。”他说道。


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Emory scientist was told to vacate his office. He says move is reprisal for activism on Asian ties

The Emory University campus in Atlanta


By Jeffrey Mervis

A tenured professor of anesthesiology at Emory University in Atlanta says he is being targeted by school administrators because of a letter he and other faculty members sent its president urging her to defend foreign scientists on campus and the value of international collaborations.

Shan Ping Yu says his department chair told him on 31 May that he must vacate his office by the end of June. Officials said nothing about finding him another office on campus, Yu says, adding that he was told at a follow-up meeting that “if I don’t move out, they will send people to do it.”

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In an 11 June email after that second meeting, the dean of Emory’s medical school, Vikas Sukhatme, told Yu that “your lab space is being adjusted” but wrote that the decision “was in no way influenced by either the letter you signed or your own ethnicity or nationality.” The letter did not mention the plan to take away Yu’s office, which he shares with three students and a postdoc working in his lab.

Yu says he suggested two alternative office arrangements, including the use of recently vacated space, but was told that university officials had specifically identified needing his office at the medical school. When he persisted, Yu says, the chairman told him “you can move to the [Department of Veterans Affairs] medical center” 4 kilometers away.

Yu, who has held an endowed chair since coming to Emory in 2008, says he doesn’t understand “how a tenured faculty member can be treated in this way.” Yu says it would be impossible for him to continue his research and mentoring responsibilities without an office on campus. “I think they want me to leave,” he says, “and this is the first step.”

On 17 March, Yu and eight other faculty members sent a letter to Emory President Claire Sterk asking her to “follow the example” of the presidents of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley in voicing support for “protecting its international faculty and students from any and all kinds of mistreatment and discrimination.” (The letter came after several federal funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health [NIH], announced actions to prevent foreign governments, particularly China, from improperly acquiring intellectual property developed by U.S.-funded research.) Sterk has not issued such a statement, although she spoke publicly in late February about the need “to promote, celebrate, and honor the voice of each and every member of our community” after the United Methodist Church, which has historic ties to the university, voted to limit the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning church members.

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Last month, Emory dismissed two of the signers of the March letter, Li Xiao-Jiang and Li Shihua, after university officials said they had failed to disclose funding and other ties to Chinese institutions in violation of federal policies. A third co-signer has also since left the university. All are Asian, and some have been Emory faculty members for decades.

Yu says Emory officials told him a new junior faculty member in the department needed his office space and suggested Yu’s research productivity was waning. Yu disputes that characterization, noting that he was an investigator on $1.5 million in NIH funding in 2018. Although the two remaining active grants supporting his work are expiring at the end of 2019 and 2020, he says he has submitted proposals to NIH covering fresh lines of research aimed at helping victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury. “I have been supported by NIH for many years, and this sort of transition period is common,” he says.

Asked about the demands on Yu, Vincent Dollard, an Emory spokesperson, said in a statement that “Emory and the School of Medicine appreciate Dr. Yu’s contributions.”

He added, “The adjustments to his laboratory space are pursuant to standard [School of Medicine] policies,” in which lab space is assigned based on a formula linked to outside funding. “The medical school is actively working on different options for Dr. Yu’s office and lab space,” Dollard said.

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