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In Wake of Lieber Arrest, Dean of Science Says FAS ‘Limited’ In Its Ability to Track Unauthorized Research Activity

Christopher W. Stubbs, the Dean of Science, teaches in the physics and astronomy departments.
Christopher W. Stubbs, the Dean of Science, teaches in the physics and astronomy departments. By MyeongSeo Kim
By Ethan Lee, Crimson Staff Writer

Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs said in an interview Friday that Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is “limited” in its ability to track whether its faculty members engage in illicit or unauthorized research collaborations.

Stubbs’s comments come in the wake of federal charges against Chemistry Department Chair Charles M. Lieber, who was arrested last month for making false statements about funding he received from the Chinese government. Lieber, an acclaimed nanoscientist and University professor, was required to surrender his passport by a federal judge and was placed on indefinite paid leave by Harvard as he awaits trial.

The charges against Lieber form the latest development in a months-long federal crackdown against “academic espionage,” the process by which scientists pass academic research from American universities to foreign governments. Stubbs announced in November that the University and FAS have formed new oversight committees to review sensitive research projects and examine FAS’s policies for compliance with federal funding guidelines.

Stubbs said Friday that the committees’ efforts have aided members of FAS’s Sciences division in understanding their responsibilities as researchers. He said the group has trained both faculty and staff to ensure affiliates are “fastidious” in record-keeping, tracking funding and effort, and disclosing “financial and intellectual entanglements.”

“What we try to do is to track that in real time and identify, early on, instances where we’re headed towards a discrepancy and take corrective action,” he said.

Stubbs said he expects the Chinese government — as well as other researchers and government officials across the world — to follow codes of conduct that govern global research. He added that Harvard will continue to welcome any foreign researchers who receive visas from the federal government.

“I think that the challenge that we face is the relationship between the government, the military, and institutions of higher education in China is structured differently than it is in this country,” Stubbs said. “I think there are unwritten norms and expectations of conduct, and we undertake our scholarship here in the expectation that our competitors and collaborators follow the same norms and codes of conduct that have led to increases in prosperity and wellbeing internationally for a long time.”

In the future, Stubbs said he plans to make new efforts to educate faculty in his division on research regulations and procedures as needed.

“We’re continually reviewing our internal policies and procedures and communicating our expectations to colleagues and trying to be proactive in educating the Harvard science community about ethical behavior, norms, and expectations,” he said. “We hold ourselves to a high intellectual standard. That’s been true forever and isn’t going to change in the future.”

—Staff writer Ethan Lee can be reached at ethan.lee@thecrimson.com.

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