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Post-Lieber Arrest, Bacow Says He Stands By Harvard’s Funding Disclosure Policies

President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks about the recent federal charge against Chemistry department chair Charles M. Lieber in an interview on Monday.
President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks about the recent federal charge against Chemistry department chair Charles M. Lieber in an interview on Monday. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Michelle G. Kurilla and Ruoqi Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

In the wake of federal charges brought against Chemistry department chair Charles M. Lieber for failing to disclose funding from a Chinese university, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Monday that Harvard relies upon the “honesty and good faith” of its faculty to disclose external funding.

Lieber was arrested on Jan. 28 for making false statements about funding he received from the Wuhan University of Technology. On Jan. 31, U.S. District Court of Massachusetts judge Marianne B. Bowler required Lieber — a renowned nanoscientist and University professor — to surrender his passport and post a $1 million bail.

Harvard placed Lieber on indefinite paid leave while he is awaiting trial in Massachusetts, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

On Monday, Bacow said it was his decision to place Lieber on “administrative leave” after the federal investigation revealed Lieber’s involvement with China’s Thousand Talents Plan.

China’s Thousand Talents Plan is a government program that intends to attract overseas researchers and scholars to the country. The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the United States Senate deems the plan a national security and economic threat.

Bacow said that while Harvard has policies that require faculty to disclose conflicts of interest, the University has no way to “investigate” every faculty member to determine whether or not they have “outside engagements.”

“We don’t have subpoena power. We don't investigate every faculty member to determine whether or not they have outside engagements,” Bacow said. “There's no way for us to do that, so we rely upon the honesty and good faith of our faculty in filling those forms out.”

“The policy exists,” he added. “But much of the way the University operates, it assumes the goodwill of those who are subject to such policies.”

The U.S. government and American universities have recently launched investigations into “academic espionage” by faculty members, especially in connection with the Chinese government.

On Feb. 11, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into Harvard over its foreign funding from the governments of China, Iran, Russia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Bacow said Monday that Harvard appropriately disclosed its foreign gifts, contracts, and grants “in a timely way” and in compliance with the law. He said the University is currently working on a response to the Education Department probe.

Bacow noted that there are a “variety of ways” in which Harvard safeguards its intellectual property, including filing patents and seeking judicial protections. He said the University does not conduct “classified research” and that all of the research the school does is ultimately published.

In the interview, Bacow said he will continue to emphasize the importance of collaborating with “peers throughout the world.”

“I think that it's important that we work with other institutions,” he said. “It's important that we be open to students coming from throughout the world. It's important that we engage with faculty and scholars in different parts of the world. This is, in fact, how we succeed in addressing some of the greatest challenges that we confront.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at ruoqi.zhang@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.

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