Yale professors question suspension of Chinese professor

Yale University faculty members are criticizing the treatment of a colleague who appears to have been targeted by a federal counterintelligence program formerly known as the China Initiative.

The government’s allegations against Professor Haifan Lin, Eugene Higgins Professor of Cell Biology and Professor of Genetics and Dermatology, remain unclear. Yale declined to comment on the case. Yale said internally that the National Institutes of Health has inquired about and expressed doubts about the veracity of Lin’s external funding disclosures for the grants, and that the Department of Justice is investigating, but it has none. says a lot more. The DOJ, which said last month it was ending the controversial China Initiative to expand its reach beyond China, has made no public statement about Lin.

What is clear is that Lin, a Chinese national and deputy dean of ShanghaiTech University, has been suspended from Yale and banned from contacting his students or colleagues since January. It is also clear that he has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

Nearly 100 Yale professors signed a private letter to President Peter Salovey about Lin’s case earlier this month, questioning the apparent lack of due process offered to Lin and describing a sense of fear that anyone having personal or professional ties with China could then be “cut off”. The letter also contrasted Yale’s treatment of Lin with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s treatment of researcher Gang Chen, whom MIT has vigorously defended against allegations that he misrepresented his own ties to China. MIT suspended Chen, but only after his arrest.

Federal prosecutors charged Chen with wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement on the tax return, then dropped all charges in January. Chen’s case is seen as a major factor in the Justice Department’s overhaul of the China Initiative.

In a response to faculty members who signed Lin’s letter, Provost Scott Strobel and Nancy Brown, dean of the medical school, wrote that the NIH questioned Yale in 2019 on “the sufficiency of external support reports by some faculty members who have received NIH grants. The university responded with information provided by the professors in question, including Lin. The NIH then “questioned whether the university’s response was accurate with respect to the information provided” regarding Lin.

Yale took the position that this was accurate, “and we argued vigorously on Professor Lin’s behalf,” Strobel and Brown continued. About a year later, after ongoing discussions, the university learned that the DOJ had opened a criminal investigation, and Yale cooperated by providing documents in response to a subpoena.

Federal investigators asked to speak to Lin in March 2021, Strobel and Brown said, and the university has retained outside counsel to represent him. Then, in January, the NIH “provided Yale with information that appeared to be inconsistent with information Professor Lin had previously provided and on which the university had based its response to the 2019 NIH investigation. decanal and provost examination, Professor Lin has been placed on paid administrative leave while the university conducts an internal investigation.

Strobel and Brown continued, “We assure you that Yale has acted assertively in support of Professor Lin throughout this matter. The university argued tirelessly with government officials and paid separate attorneys. The Yale School of Medicine has committed to providing bridge funding to support Professor Lin’s research program. From the moment Dr. Lin went on leave, his department head pledged to support his students. We have appointed an interim director of the Stem Cell Center to ensure continuity. We are working as diligently and as quickly as possible to resolve this issue and to support those most affected. »

Deans and provosts can place a faculty member on administrative leave, usually with pay, “in extraordinary situations like this,” they also said. “The actions taken so far, while difficult, are consistent with Yale practices and policies.”

As to whether Yale treated Lin differently than MIT treated Chen, Strobel and Brown said, “We provided significant support, but the circumstances at Yale are different from those at MIT. The NIH has provided credible information that we need to investigate.

The administrators also acknowledged “the pain, fear and stress that our Asian and Asian American colleagues have experienced in recent years. We are fully committed to ensuring that Yale supports these members of our community and that they thrive here.

A day after Strobel and Brown sent their letter, Yale’s Department of Cell Biology and the Yale Stem Cell Center shared a declaration of support for Lin on social media, saying that Lin is “not only a brilliant scientist and mentor, whose eminence has been recognized by election to the United States National Academy of Sciences, but also a leader whom we know to be of extreme integrity. We have complete confidence in him. We are also convinced that the [DOJ] the investigation will only reveal that he was the victim of ill-conceived federal policies.

The statement also acknowledged Yale’s internal investigation into the matter as “understandable and appropriate,” but called “deeply disturbing” that Lin was banned from campus and communicating with students and colleagues before any discovery.

“This precautionary suspension is on its face deeply un-American because it applied a penalty to Haifan before due process could be completed and apparently before he was given a chance to defend himself,” Lin’s colleagues wrote. “The result is an unwarranted and devastating disruption to Haifan’s personal and professional life. The new decision by the Yale administration to separate him from any contact with his students is completely unjustified and harmful to the totally innocent members of our community.

Valerie Horsley, Maxine F. Singer Associate Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Senate Chair of the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and one of Lin’s mentees, whom he recruited from Yale, said said Lin has always been “very open” about his activities in China, including his position as assistant dean in Shanghai, and aware of Yale’s policies on outside activities.

Horsley said she was therefore “shocked and concerned” to learn that Lin had been suspended suddenly and that the case continues to cast a shadow over campus.

“We have to report external funding to NIH, and we’re all doing our best, but we’re all very busy, and I’m sure a lot of professors feel like they could make a mistake,” he said. she stated about the apparent allegations against Lin. “That seems a bit extreme to us, especially when it comes to the China Initiative.”

Regarding Yale’s handling of the case, Horsley said: “The biggest concern is the fact that he was placed on administrative leave from Yale and it’s not clear he did anything. of badness. It seems that if there is going to be an administrative leave that would impact the lab, they should have solid evidence and an explanation of why it needs to happen. This is going to have an impact on his interns and his lab, and it could turn out to be just fine. I don’t know if it’s fair to these people and the science he’s done.

Comments are closed.