Letter to MIT Chancellor Calls Arrest of Prof Chen “worst cases of academic racism”

Boston, Jan. 15, 2021, — FBI agents Prof. Gang Chen of MIT on Jan. 14, 2021, and charged that Prof Chen committed wire fraud, failed to file a foreign bank account report and made a false statement in a tax return. The letter titled “MIT and racism Re: A slippery road” below was written by Prof Yi Rao of Peking University.

MIT and racism Re: A slippery road

Rafael Reif
Chancellor, MIT

Maria Zuber
Vice Chancellor for Research, MIT

Jan. 14, 2021

Dear Drs. Reif and Zuber,

The arrest of Dr. Gang Chen on January 13th 2021 by the Boston FBI is nothing but thinly veiled racism.

If MIT does not support Dr. Gang Chen, MIT will be implicated in one of the worst cases of academic racism in the 21st century.

Dr. Chen is a highly respected scientist at MIT. His associations with China are very normal in academia.

Dr. Chen’s association with the Southern University of Science and Technology, or SUSTech, is known to both of you. The top leadership of Shenzhen city, where SUSTech is located, visited MIT and have met the MIT leadership. Dr. Chen signed an agreement with SUSTech on behalf of MIT, not on behalf of himself. There is no secret hidden by Dr. Chen that he is advising SUSTech.

The key charge by the FBI was that Dr. Chen did not disclose on his grant proposal to the DOE 5 associations with China: 1) an advisor to SUSTech, 2) “review expert” for the National Natural Science Foundation of China or NNSFC, 3) a Zhongguanchun Development Group or ZDG Overseas Strategic Scientist, 4) an advisor to the China Scholar Councilor or CSC, and 5) a “4th Overseas Expert Consultant” to the PRC government.

This is a ridiculous charge. First of all, funding agencies require applicants to disclose associations that are related to the research in the grant proposal, so that a research project does not receive duplicate funding. So, if Dr. Chen has a project funded by both a US agency and another US or Chinese agency, he should have disclosed it. But none of the 5 associations are related to Dr. Chen’s research funding, so of course he should not list them on his grant proposals. Secondly, these associations are usual outside activities of most scholars that do not impinge on their own research or work. Thus, they do not affect grant review processes and do not need to be disclosed to funding agencies. Thirdly, reviewing grants for other countries (such as NNSFC) is a regular activity. If failure to report reviewing for NNSFC is a crime, then almost all MIT professors could be charged with reviewing for funding agencies of Israeli, Italian, or British governments. Singling out a science foundation of China as a government agency is simply racism as all major governments have science foundations.

The other four associations of Dr. Chen would add up to less than half a day of work per year because those associations have little to ask him other than using his name to let superiors know that each agency “had consulted” international experts.

The root of the problem is, of course, known to all of us: Trumpism has fundamentally eroded morality in the US.

Much have to be done for the US to recover from Trumpism. The entire world has witnessed how few US politicians have spines, in front of Trump and his lies.

We certainly hope that MIT, a beacon of academic excellency and freedom, will hold its head high and show your spine in front of a racist Boston FBI and its agents in defending Dr. Chen.

This is for Dr. Chen, but it is also, if not more, for MIT.

The world is watching.

Yi Rao