In response to news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government officials have advised some U.S. universities to develop protocols for monitoring students and scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions, NCAC has joined a coalition, led by PEN America, of higher education and free speech organizations calling on universities to maintain their commitment to academic freedom and due process.
Calls to monitor individuals solely based on their country of origin violate norms of due process and should raise alarms in a democracy. If there are articulable concerns about specific individuals because of their activities and affiliations, those should be pursued without regard to the individual’s country of origin. Disclosure requirements, information sharing and export control enforcement all offer powerful means to protect against intellectual property theft and espionage without resorting to tactics that cast suspicion on potentially hundreds of thousands of students and scholars. Federal agencies need to clarify and specify their concerns, and ensure that their efforts do not trample on individual rights nor on the principle of free and open academic inquiry and exchange.
Unless researchers possess a formal and disclosed government affiliation, they must be permitted to pursue their work free from state interference or involvement. Failure to adhere to this principle violates the precepts of academic freedom and threatens global scholarly exchange.
China’s government is notorious for its aggressive use of surveillance. Efforts by the United States to fend off the global arm of autocracy must not mimic the very tactics it professes to reject. As concern on these matters grows, we advise universities to zealously safeguard their independence—to maintain their commitment to academic freedom, to uphold the principle of due process, and to respect the privacy rights of students and faculty, no matter their national origins.