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Embattled Harvard Chemistry Professor Charles Lieber Retires

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Charles M. Lieber, the Harvard chemistry professor convicted of lying to federal investigators in 2021, quietly retired last month, a Harvard spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.

Lieber, who formerly chaired Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was found guilty on six felony counts, including two counts of lying to the government about his ties to the Chinese government and four tax offenses.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton confirmed that Lieber retired from Harvard on Feb. 1.

Lieber, who is 63, has been on paid administrative leave since being charged in 2020. In 2017, he was appointed as a University professor, the highest faculty rank at Harvard.

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Newton declined to comment on whether Lieber would receive emeritus status or whether Harvard administrators had asked him to retire.

Harvard does not automatically grant emeritus status to retired professors “based on the fact of retirement alone,” according to the 2022-2023 Faculty of Arts and Sciences handbook. Professors are eligible for emeritus status when a faculty member retires, is over 60, and has at least five years of service prior to retirement. A professor may also retain emeritus status for their endowed chair position if they previously held one.

Lieber’s name no longer appears on the CCB department’s website nor on Harvard’s list of University professors. His name was on the list as recently as Feb. 4, according to Internet archives. As of Tuesday evening, webpages for Lieber’s research group and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences professor profile were still live.

Lieber did not respond to a request for comment. Stephanie Guaba, one of Lieber’s attorneys, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Theodore A. Betley, the chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, wrote in an email that “to the best of my knowledge, Prof. Lieber’s status as a University Professor means all handling of his retirement was dealt with by the President’s office.”

The professor, once a preeminent voice in the field of nanotechnology, was arrested in 2020 on Harvard’s campus and charged with lying to federal authorities about his involvement with China’s Thousand Talents Program — a state-run program to recruit academic researchers in the country — and his affiliation with the Wuhan University of Technology.

Lieber’s lawyers previously argued for a speedy trial because of his stage-four lymphoma diagnosis and deteriorating health. In December 2021, he was convicted after a six-day trial.

Lieber’s sentencing was initially scheduled for January 2023, but it was rescheduled for later this month. He faces up to 26 years in prison and up to $1.2 million in fines.

The conviction served as an important victory for the Department of Justice’s now-defunct China Initiative to combat Chinese espionage, which was criticized by some as politically-motivated and subject to racial profiling.

Correction: March 23, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Charles M. Lieber was convicted of lying to the FBI. In fact, Lieber was convicted of lying to federal investigators for the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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