Faculty at Tennessee want Anming Hu to return

For the second time in as many weeks, the faculty at a prominent U.S. university are standing up for Chinese scholars. We can hope this trend continues. 

This time, the loud voices of support are coming from the University of Tennessee. Professors at that institution are demanding Anming Hu be reinstated with back pay and be allowed to continue his teaching and research after he was acquitted of charges of attempting to defraud NASA. Hu had been a tenured faculty member in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering before being fired as part of the hopelessly flawed “China Initiative” policy dreamed up by the disastrous Donald Trump. 

That initiative deliberately targets Chinese scholars teaching and researching at American universities, setting them up for accusations that they are seeking to steal information that will eventually be shared with the Chinese government. 

The faculty also are asking important questions as to why university leaders apparently cooperated with the government in the investigation into Hu. One Tennessee newspaper reported during Hu’s trial that university administrators had provided information to prosecutors about Hu without informing him. More ominously, they reportedly handed over the information to the government without a warrant from a court to do so.

One Tennessee faculty member spoke to Inside Higher Ed (IHE), a leading source of information about America’s college and university system: “It’s very disconcerting in terms of what appears to have been initial compliance by the university with racial profiling going on by the FBI,” said Louis J. Gross, the Faculty Senate president … “The faculty would much prefer in situations like that the university would have the faculty member’s back,” Gross said. 

Gross is correct: One of the ugliest aspects of the “China Initiative” is that it is based on racial profiling, and it also has contributed to the horrible anti-Asian/anti-Chinese animus that has spread across the United States. That hate will be part of Trump’s legacy of four failed years in the White House. 

Meanwhile, the efforts at the University of Tennessee build upon what recently happened at Stanford University. It was roughly 10 days ago when a group of almost 175 researchers at Stanford demanded President Joe Biden end the draconian “China Initiative.” When the initiative was launched in 2018, the Department of Justice stated the initiative was a “strategic priority of countering Chinese national security threats and reinforces the president’s overall national security strategy.” 

Unfortunately, Hu was caught up in this net of nonsense. The U.S. government accused Hu of failing to admit that he had links to the Chinese government when he applied for government funding to work on a NASA project. 

The judge presiding over Hu’s trial eventually determined the government’s case was so weak that no jury would believe Hu had any plans to steal information from NASA or any other entity. According to APA Justice, a group seeking to protect Asian Americans from racial profiling, one of the jurors later said, “It was the most ridiculous case.” The Tennessee newspaper mentioned above also noted that an FBI agent who was a critical witness for the government admitted that Hu’s case turned out to be based on false information.

Hu is one of about one-dozen scholars, almost all of whom are of Chinese descent, facing similar accusations of refusing to disclose ties to their governments. It is not yet clear if the Department of Justice will continue to pursue cases against any of the others.

There is a larger lesson here. The litany of complaints about China emanating from America’s political elites also has allowed for the aforementioned anti-Asian/anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S to fester. It is critical that people like me — faculty at U.S. colleges and universities big and small — continue to call out the government when it creates bad policy. It is also mandatory that we insist on open doors for rich educational exchanges and partnerships between the U.S. and China. 

We are well aware that the Trump administration also sought to deny Chinese students an opportunity to study in the U.S. Of course, we should applaud the Biden administration for relaxing many of the barriers that impeded Chinese students from receiving their educational visas; however, we also must continue to pressure the White House to get rid of the “China Initiative” and any other weak-sauce efforts designed to prevent U.S. and Chinese faculty and students from building bridges toward a community with a shared future. 

At its core, the “China Initiative” is cobbled-together nonsense from the mind of a man who hated China, primarily because it refused to kowtow to his bizarre opinions about American greatness. It belongs in the trash can. Efforts to foster better relations between the U.S. and China do not.

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