UC San Diego professor Shirley Meng’s laboratory is a veritable United Nations of research, with 48 scholars from six different countries exploring how to improve battery storage for electric vehicles, robots and — someday — flying cars.
But Meng and her colleagues worry that one country soon will be left out of the lab: China.
The Trump administration has intensified its crackdown over trade, technology and security — and now it has spread to America’s vaunted universities, turning the University of California into an especially big target.
UC campuses from San Diego to Berkeley are reporting that Chinese students and scholars are encountering visa delays, federal scrutiny over their research activities, and new restrictions on collaboration with China and Chinese companies.
The National Institutes of Health, a major source of university research funding, also has raised questions about current and former scientists at UC’s Berkeley, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Francisco campuses, prompting reviews of whether they followed federal grant rules, including confidentiality requirements and disclosures of outside support.
The overarching fear is that Trump’s crackdown will drive away top Chinese scholars and jeopardize the kind of open international collaboration that has been a hallmark of higher education in the U.S., contributing to world-class research and scientific progress.
Federal officials warn that China is exploiting America’s open academic environment to steal intellectual property and innovations.
The UC, with its Pacific Rim location and cutting-edge research supported by billions of dollars in federal grants, is in the crosshairs because it has the largest number of Chinese students and scholars in the United States.
So far, no UC campus has moved to dismiss Chinese scholars — unlike Emory University in Atlanta and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. But a UC San Diego scientist from China recently resigned after the campus put him on leave while it reviewed whether he had disclosed all outside funding and contacts, a university official confirmed.
And Meng, for the first time ever, has warned her students to think twice about going home to China this summer because tougher visa policies could significantly delay their return to the United States and impede their research.
“Constantly, my students are hearing stories of someone getting stuck in China for months,” she said. “In the past, we didn’t have this kind of bad news everywhere.”