Robbie Short

Amid allegations that a Yale professor gave the Chinese government genetic data used to profile and oppress the country’s ethnic minorities, University President Peter Salovey — who has remained silent on the issue despite students’ calls for a response — will travel to China this month to meet with alumni and strengthen Yale’s research ties with Chinese institutions of higher education.

Over spring break, Salovey will visit Shanghai Jiao Tong University-Yale Immune-metabolic Research Center and participate in the launch ceremony for the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, according to Salovey’s chief of staff Joy McGrath. Salovey and cell biology professor Haifan Lin are also slated to meet with “leaders” of ShanghaiTech University, McGrath said. She added that Salovey will give a speech at the 70th anniversary celebration for the New Asia College in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Salovey will also meet with alumni at the Yale Club of Hong Kong and Yale Club of Shanghai.

“Whenever I travel, I am primarily working to nurture and strengthen relationships between Yale and the institutions and universities with which our faculty collaborate,” Salovey said in an email to the News. “I also see Yale alumni when I travel. Our relationships with universities around the world are crucial to advancing scientific and other research, and promoting the cross-pollination of students and faculty that is so crucial to the success of the university’s educational mission.”

But Salovey’s trip comes around a month after The New York Times reported that School of Medicine emeritus professor Kenneth Kidd shared genetic data with scientists from China’s Ministry of Public Security, which then used the information to profile and oppress the Uighurs — a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in China.

In an email to the News on Sunday, University spokesman Tom Conroy said that Yale is “gathering information” about the case and has no comment.

Last week, a team of graduate and undergraduate students sent Salovey a petition urging him to address the Ministry of Public Security’s surveillance and oppression of Uighurs during his visit. According to Elizabeth Allan LAW ’21, one of the students leading the cause, the petition had around 360 signatures from undergraduate, graduate and professional students as of Tuesday night.

“We are deeply concerned about reports that a Yale faculty member provided DNA samples to the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that were then used to enhance mass monitoring and repression of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” the petition stated. “… Several members of the Yale community have friends or family currently in detention or under state surveillance in Xinjiang. We are disturbed that the PRC government used Yale-provided resources in its widespread campaign of forced assimilation.”

Salovey did not respond to questions about the petition or the controversy surrounding Kidd’s alleged sharing of data.

The petition to Salovey noted that Yale has the longest history of engagement with China among U.S. institutions of higher education. While Chinese students and scholars are “cherished members of the Yale community” and “good faith cooperation between U.S. and Chinese academic institutions” must be supported, Yale should ensure that such collaborations do not lead to human rights abuses, the petition stated.

“We support Yale’s engagement academically with China, but this episode with Dr. Kidd is a wake-up call that we need to make sure that Yale’s engagement is conducted on an ethical basis with the recognition that Chinese government institutions do not play by the same set of rules that U.S. institutions do,” one of the organizers of the petition Ned Levin SOM ’20 said in an interview with the News.

In June, the U.S. State Department tightened visa restrictions for Chinese graduate students studying “sensitive” fields like aviation, robotics and certain areas of manufacturing. Chinese students pursuing those areas of study can now only legally stay in the U.S. for one year, as opposed to the former five-year limit.

In an interview with China Daily — a state-controlled English-language daily newspaper — last month, Salovey said that a decrease in the number of Chinese students would make Yale lose “some of the smartest students in the world” and that Yale’s “educational environment won’t be as rich.”

In an e-mail to the News, president of the Yale-China Association David Youtz said that universities have an important role to play in developing relationships between the U.S. and China at a time when Sino-American government-to-government relations are tense. Yale has more of an obligation compared to other universities, given “its exceptionally long engagement with China and the many contributions it has made in partnership with Chinese people across several centuries,” Youtz said.

But one of the heads of undergraduate recruitment for the student group responsible for the petition, Kelsang Dolma ’19, argued that Yale’s close ties to China has prevented the University from speaking out against the country’s human rights violations.

“We recognize that we have the resources to perhaps help the Uighurs,” Dolma said. “We cannot wait for some dramatic U.S. policy change to help ameliorate the human rights crisis — to be idle is arguably to be complicit.”

Yung Wing, class of 1854, was the first Chinese student to graduate from Yale and any American university.

Kelly Wei | kelly.wei@yale.edu 

Serena Choserena.cho@yale.edu