Toolkit for researchers to garner institutional support on research security issues

Purpose of the toolkit

In recent years, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions in response to increasing national and economic security concerns, especially in regard to the Chinese government. These actions include the U. S. Department of Justice China Initiative; tightened regulations at federal funding agencies regarding interactions of U.S. researchers with foreign collaborators, institutions and governments; visa restrictions for international students and scholars; etc.. We recognize the legitimate interests of the U.S. government in protecting classified research and ensuring national and economic security. Unfortunately, however, some ill-considered or overzealous federal actions are discouraging legitimate international contacts, collaborations and research activities. The China Initiative is damaging the lives, finances and careers of scientists — an overwhelming fraction of them Chinese — accused of failure to disclose connections and funding from Chinese talent programs. Impacts range from irritating and time-wasting inconveniences to threatened or actual legal prosecution. This reaction of the US government to research security concerns is not only destructive for international students and scholars but is in fact counterproductive. The open and creative research environment in the U.S. is the best in the world, and its leadership in STEM is in large part due to the hundreds of thousands of international students, scholars, and workers who have so greatly strengthened our efforts. Some current federal policies are harming this environment, and may well deprive the U.S. of some of its most talented current and future scientific researchers.

Addressing government actions that hurt legitimate open science, students and scientists requires persistent effort from the scientific community. It is important to raise awareness of these issues among policy makers and the public. It is also important for researchers to discuss their concerns with their own institutional administrations, to educate them as to the nature and extent of the problem, and to gain their support. Various institutions have responded very differently to research security concerns. (More detailed information can be found in our Sample Letter and Relevant Information.) We researchers must ensure that our institutions take action against racial profiling, promote open science, and provide appropriate support to their researchers. We have prepared this toolkit to help guide researchers in approaching their institutions’ administrations to craft appropriate and effective responses to the current climate of increased scrutiny.

Relevant information

We have collected various materials related to this issue, which can be found here in Relevant Information. This includes documents and reports about several China Initiative cases, useful webinars and related petitions, and a list of a few organizations working on this issue.

Sample letter

We have prepared a sample letter which contains an introduction to the issues that researchers may be concerned about, and a list of requests to the leadership of their institutions that may be useful. Our list covers several different issues, not all of which may be relevant for a given institution. Researchers at each institution should feel free to adapt the letter to fit their concerns.

Suggestions for how to approach institutional leaders
  1. Internal and public letters. Get together with like-minded colleagues at your institution and draft a letter to the institution’s leadership. Depending on your purpose, the letter could become public or could remain internal within the institution. For example, you may request your leaders to release a public statement in support of the affected research community, to raise concerns of the research community with the federal government and to advocate for open science, or to start a dialogue (such as a video “town hall” meeting) with concerned researchers about your institution’s policy.It is always important to have a concrete goal for your letter. It is useful to first gather the endorsements of 10-20 influential colleagues; this will make the petition more convincing to others. Examples of some recent petitions can be found in Relevant Information.

  2. Academic Senate. At colleges and universities, an effective way of approaching your Chancellor/President is through the Academic Senate, since that can demonstrate widespread support for your position among faculty from various departments. Before approaching the Senate, it may be helpful to brainstorm and network with colleagues across campus, particularly in the natural and medical sciences and engineering. It is important to have the support of a broad and diverse group of faculty members, including faculty who are not directly affected by the policies. Soliciting support from the most distinguished and influential faculty at your institution is another good way to generate attention.

  3. Other approaches. More informally, you can approach your institution’s administrators and bring up this issue through your manager, department chair or dean. Some specific requests can be made directly to the appropriate office of your institution, such as the office in charge of research administration or with compliance with federal funding regulations.

Other suggested actions

Besides exerting influence within your institution, there are many other constructive actions you can take as a member of the research community.

  1. Call your representatives in Congress. Never assume that your representative or others around you are already familiar with this issue. In addition, participate in APS action alerts such as this one to contact Congressional representatives.
  2. Talk to the media and write letters to the editor.
  3. Write public letters to the US Department of Justice, such as this one, or other relevant government agencies. Work with colleagues at other institutions to write such letters to demonstrate a broad base of support for your position.
  4. Talk to your federal grant program managers about the issue.
  5. Talk to colleagues and friends. Keep in mind that many of our colleagues have not yet appreciated the magnitude of this problem and its consequences for the research environment in the U.S.. There are many kind people around you who could potentially support you but have not yet paid enough attention to become engaged. Their help could be invaluable to you.
  6. Organize webinars, panels or informal discussions about related topics at your institution, at professional organizations of which you are a member or can join, and at venues such as conferences in which you participate. Or organize a seminar at your institution; as an example, see the physics colloquium given by Prof. Xiaoxing Xi at Harvard University. More examples of webinars, etc. can be found in Relevant Information.