Feds find 'foreign interference'...at University of Florida

Four employees at the University of Florida left the school after an investigation uncovered foreign research connections.

The National Institutes of Health has inquired about potentially similar situations in at least 70 other U.S. institutions.

A faculty member has been fired and three more have resigned at the University of Florida after a recent inquiry by a federal agency found undisclosed ties to foreign interference. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, three employees left the school after the National Institutes of Health sent a letter to UF concerning possible foreign interference in federal research. Two of the faculty members’ actions were uncovered as a result of the NIH inquiry, while the other two faculty members’ actions were discovered by a subsequent UF investigation. 

The faculty members, whose identities have not been revealed, worked in different colleges. Two worked in UF’s College of Engineering, one worked in UF’s College of Medicine, and another worked in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

The NIH provides researchers at colleges and universities $30 billion in grant money each year. UF received $190 million from the NIH in 2019, and spent $865 million on research in 2018.

[RELATED: Another Chinese ‘propaganda’ center shutters amid US-China tensions]

A local outlet reported that the university has taken a number of actions to address foreign interference, the most notable being the implementation of an “International Risk Assessment” process that monitors activities with foreign entities. UF also created a new system for disclosing conflicts of interests and activities with external parties. 

A UF site also outlines the best practices and disclosure procedures for employees involved in research. 

In a letter late last year, Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) warned Florida university presidents about Chinese threats to research. Scott also requested information about the specific steps in place at each institution to protect intellectual and technological property. 

“The growing influence of Communist China presents a clear and present danger to the stability of world markets, to the security of the United States and our allies, and to the quest for freedom and democracy around the globe,” Scott wrote in his letter. “We know Communist China is stealing our technology and trying to compete with us on the global stage. We should all be greatly concerned about what is happening in Communist China as they continue to take steps to try to ‘win’ the great power conflict of the 21st Century.”

UF President Kent Fuchs responded to Scott shortly after, alerting the senator to the school’s response. 

“The university has identified certain faculty members who were participating or were seeking to participate in a foreign talents program. The university has addressed or is in the process of addressing each of these matters,” Fuchs wrote. 

[RELATED: Sen. Rick Scott demands answers from Florida universities on Chinese influence]

Fuchs was also unequivocal in the university’s position on foreign influence. 

“The university does not approve participation in foreign talents programs as an outside activity,” Fuchs added, according to the Gainesville Sun. “Any faculty member who fails to disclose their participation in a foreign talents program is subject to discipline, including termination for cause.”

The NIH has inquired about foreign threats at as many as 70 different U.S. institutions. 

Campus Reform reached out to UF but received no response in time for publication. 

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