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Columbia University President Blasts FBI Demand for Surveillance of Foreign Students

Sept. 2, 2019 (EIRNS)—Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University in New York City, rebuts the FBI’s demand that Columbia police itself to prevent the theft of “intellectual property” by foreign students, in an article on the Sunday Opinion page in the Washington Post on Sept. 1, titled, “No, I Won’t Start Spying on My Students.”

Law enforcement is trying to stop the transfer of “intellectual property” to foreign rivals by

“encouraging U.S. academics and administrators to develop ‘more robust’ protocols for monitoring foreign-born students and visiting scholars—particularly if they are ethnically Chinese,” Bollinger says. Such policing puts economic and political concerns into “fierce conflict with First Amendment freedoms.”

Bollinger acknowledges that academic research in national security areas such as cybersecurity is sensitive, and, likewise, academic research in collaboration with U.S. companies which can be a target of “unlawful technology transfers.”

Yet “only a fraction of the research conducted on a campus is ‘secret,’ ” he says. The reality is that academic research is meant to be shared, in order to advance human progress. So, a foreign national doesn’t need to physically come to the United States to find new U.S. discoveries: he or she can read academic journals or visit the U.S. Patent Office website, or type words into a search engine.

“American higher education is the envy of the world not in spite of, but because of, its unrivaled commitment to openness and diversity,” writes Bollinger. “At Columbia University, where I am president, thousands of students and faculty represent more than 150 countries.” University culture is incompatible with systematic scrutiny, and even law enforcement officials who visited Columbia have offered only advice like “be vigilant,” rather than claiming to have remedies. The surveillance of foreign-born scholars is a wrong solution, he writes.

Bollinger suggests a more effective approach, also backed, he states, by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property: To expand the number of green cards for U.S. residency awarded to foreign-born graduates, especially in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; many would prefer to remain in the United States and work for U.S.-based companies or labs after graduation.

“The mandate of our colleges and universities is to pursue open, robust inquiry across a wide range of topics. Our institutions of higher learning should do more—not less—of what made the United States the most innovative nation in the history of the world,” Bollinger concludes.

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