Harvard Forms New Oversight Bodies After Federal Agency Inquires Into ‘Academic Espionage’


Harvard has formed two new oversight committees in response to National Institutes of Health inquiries into potential “academic espionage” by faculty members at American universities, Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs announced at the Faculty’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

One committee is tasked with reviewing sensitive research projects, and the other is examining Faculty of Arts and Sciences policies to ensure the school complies with guidelines set forth by federal funding agencies. Stubbs said the new committees were prompted by FBI and NIH investigations into scientists across the country who are allegedly stealing biomedical research from universities and funnelling that research to foreign governments.

“Harvard has received and responded to inquiries from the NIH about inconsistencies between proposal submissions and faculty activities,” Stubbs said.

The New York Times first reported Sunday that more than 70 research institutions are investigating potential cases of intellectual property theft, after NIH sent letters to administrators at the institutions, asking them to monitor government research grants. Almost all of the incidents the NIH and FBI are investigating involve Chinese and Chinese American researchers allegedly sending materials to the Chinese government.


Stubbs said the new committees Harvard has formed in response to the federal inquiries “complement” the University’s existing administrative structures. The committees, he added, will help Harvard navigate the “rapidly changing landscape” of federal research funding.

“Academics have lost their jobs, some have been charged with crimes, and tensions are high,” he said.

One of the new committees is a University-wide body tasked with conducting “special” reviews of sensitive collaborations, according to Stubbs. Administered through the Provost’s office, the group also includes representatives from FAS, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard Medical School, and the Office of the General Counsel. It monitors research efforts that might pose “elevated compliance risks.”

The other committee, which Stubbs said FAS Dean Claudine Gay established to recommend changes to FAS’s procudures specifically, will examine the administration of federal research grants.

Stubbs outlined multiple proposals the FAS committee has already recommended. In addition to requiring faculty to complete online training centered on grant compliance, the committee recommends mandating that all research proposals be submitted to Harvard’s grant administration system for a “full internal review,” at least five days before the grant’s deadline.

The FAS committee has also asked that Harvard seek out an external consultant to “fully delineate roles and responsibilities” between FAS, the central administration, academic departments, and individual faculty members. Stubbs did not clarify in his Tuesday remarks what roles and responsibilities the external consultant would oversee.

Stubbs asked faculty for their “cooperation” as the University ramps up its scrutiny and urged them to fully disclose all “external intellectual commitments and partnerships” in grant applications.

“The deliberations are grounded in a strong endorsement of the fundamental principles of freedom of scholarly inquiry, on the free exchange of people and ideas, and continuing our international partnerships,” he said. “However, we also appreciate the importance of fulfilling our responsibilities as recipients of taxpayer funding.”

—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mollmccaff.