Courtesy of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences

Amid federal scrutiny of university campuses, Yale officials say they are doing their best to protect faculty and researchers — but professors and students say that it still is not enough. 

At its last open meeting of the academic year on Thursday, the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Senate passed a resolution calling for greater transparency from the University regarding its responses to past and ongoing investigations into Yale researchers related to the China Initiative, a Trump-era national security program that advocates say discriminates against researchers of Chinese descent. The resolution comes after the suspension and return of Haifan Lin, a cell biology professor at the Yale School of Medicine who was investigated by the Department of Justice.

The FAS Senate’s resolution also urged the University to create a committee to “evaluate, define and protect the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of faculty and administration in cases involving the investigation of faculty by outside agencies.” Though the Senate named the Justice Department’s China Initiative as a primary concern, the document’s language broadened the scope of potential danger to all international community members. 

“The FBI and/or the NIH investigated several Yale faculty and community members of Chinese heritage as a part of the China Initiative, resulting in at least one Yale faculty member placed on academic leave by the University related to these investigations,” the resolution reads. “Programs like the China initiative may encompass faculty and students beyond China, as other countries can be labeled as ‘nation-state threats’ by the United States government.”

At the same Thursday meeting, the Senate also passed a separate resolution condemning educational gag orders currently being passed by state legislatures across the country and expressing support for affected educators.

Yale officials previously cited privacy concerns when asked to provide more details on how many professors are under federal investigation and what steps are taken when such investigations are opened.

University spokeswoman Karen Peart referred the News to Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Tamar Gendler, who said that she looked forward to “sharing the resolutions with the president and provost who are always eager to hear of, and respond to, faculty concerns.”

FAS Senate Chair Valerie Horsley told the News that senators felt compelled to support colleagues of Chinese descent. 

“Members of the Yale community are suffering and afraid and don’t feel that they have a voice,” Horsley wrote. “Most of the active members have been junior faculty who I want to protect.”

Horsley also emphasized a belief that the environment of fear created by such investigations goes against the University’s “Belonging at Yale” initiatives. 

It remains unclear that Lin’s case is directly linked to the China Initiative — a campaign that advocates say has undefined boundaries. Still, professors and students continue to treat the case as such, criticizing the Initiative as anti-Asian discrimination.

Students, meanwhile, describe an ongoing environment of uncertainty and fear for the Yale community of Chinese descent. Jianjian Guo, president of the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale, said that some fellow students have expressed frustrations over the University’s actions in Lin’s case.

“Nobody would say it publicly,” Guo said. “But in private, we think that Yale could do better.”

Guo and three faculty members who spoke to the News specifically referenced the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s level of support for Gang Chen, a faculty member who was arrested on charges of improper ties with China and subsequently released after vigorous support from his university. In a March letter to faculty, Yale had stated that the circumstances of Lin’s case were different from Chen in that the NIH provided “credible evidence” against Lin. 

It is unclear whether either the University’s internal investigation or a National Institutes of Health inquiry into Lin remains open.

Guo added that students like herself, who come to the United States through the China Scholarship Council-Yale World Scholars program, are grateful that the University was able to fund their fellowships after a federal proclamation made it impossible for such students to receive visas. 

Still, Guo noted several students she knows have been discouraged by recent events from studying at Yale or in the United States. These issues remain a topic of conversation for researchers, she added, with some even expressing fears of being targeted by Yale or the government for associating with a student group like ACSSY.

“Some other universities might not have been able to [fund our fellowships],” Guo said. “So Yale is generally pretty good, but we think it might be able to do better.”

The China Initiative was announced in 2018.

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu is the News' managing editor. He was formerly the faculty and academics reporter, laid out the Yale Daily News Magazine and the front page of the weekly print edition, and covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Isaac was also the News' inaugural Audience editor, overseeing the News' Twitter, Facebook, SEO and Instagram teams. He was also the leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.