North Texas Daily

Visiting Chinese scholars left with unanswered questions after university terminates relationship with Chinese Scholarship Council

Visiting Chinese scholars left with unanswered questions after university terminates relationship with Chinese Scholarship Council

Visiting Chinese scholars left with unanswered questions after university terminates relationship with Chinese Scholarship Council
September 10
12:00 2020

Visiting scholars funded by the Chinese Scholarship Council said the university has given them little explanation for its decision to terminate its relationship after a law enforcement briefing despite the resulting confusion and financial strain.

UNT is the first university in the U.S. to cut ties with CSC-funded scholars. The scholarship program recently faced scrutiny at the University of California Davis when an affiliated researcher was accused of hiding ties to the Chinese military in late July. In August, a Chinese national conducting research at the University of Virginia was arrested and charged with theft of trade secrets and computer intrusion. 

Fifteen Chinese researchers with J-1 visas were notified of the decision through a letter sent on August 26. The letter was co-signed by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jennifer Cowley and Vice President for Research and Innovation Mark McLellan. 

The North Texas Daily sent requests for comment to Cowley and McLellan, which were forwarded to Jim Berscheidt, Vice President for University Brand Strategy and Communications.

“UNT took this action based upon specific and credible information following detailed briefings from federal and local law enforcement,” Berscheidt said. 

Berscheidt said he was unable to share specific details with the Daily regarding the information provided to the university by law enforcement. 

“I have no idea why law enforcement agencies would be talking to UNT about my program,” a CSC scholar who requested to stay anonymous said. “I’m a Ph.D. student in China. I got the opportunity to visit UNT so I came here as a visiting scholar. Everything I did here is legal, and I obeyed the basic academic standards and moral standards.”

The researcher, as well as Berscheidt, stated neither Cowley nor McLellan have met with the CSC scholars. 

 “No one gave us any reason for this unexpected decision,” the scholar said. “I didn’t receive any reasonable explanation from anyone.”

The scholar must break their home and car rental agreements to leave by the Sept. 25 deadline. They must also secure a flight back to China, which described as not only expensive but a health risk. 

“I don’t want to get on an airplane during this COVID-19 pandemic unless I have no other choice,” the scholar said. 

Liang Yuheng, university alum and friend of the CSC scholars, has been vocal on social media about his opposition to the decision. He started a petition, which has 6,400 signatures as of Sept. 8, asking for a reversal or explanation. 

“I and many other Chinese students feel UNT is not that inclusive anymore,” Yuheng said. “Some Chinese students think they should transfer to other schools within the US [sic] or other countries.”

Adam Briggle, a faculty member of the philosophy department, has hosted a total of seven CSC scholars since 2011 and described an “overwhelmingly positive” experience.  

“I really value the intercultural and international friendships that have developed out of this program,” Briggle said in an email to the Daily. “My Chinese friends are all wonderful people and excellent scholars— it has been a pleasure and an honor to host them and to continue learning from them.”

His experience with the CSC has also resulted in a collaboration on an issue of an academic journal, a trip to Beijing and even a series of guest lectures in Shenyang at Northeastern University.

“I trust that UNT is acting in good faith. We have excellent leadership at this university,” Briggle said. “Still, though, I think they should have found ways to accomplish their security objectives without causing such hardship for these visiting scholars. I hope that we can all find ways to support our Chinese colleagues. It’s important to emphasize that no individual was accused of any wrongdoing.”

Courtesy Yuheng Liang

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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