FBI, AAPI leaders meet at Rice to address discrimination toward Asian American academics

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Leadership from the FBI joined a dialogue hosted by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy to hear from the Asian American and academic communities to examine gaps between national science and technology policy and its implementation.

Representatives from Rice and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Asian American Scholar Forum and Texas Multicultural Advocacy Coalition participated in a June 6 panel discussion with Jill Murphy, deputy assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, and leaders from the FBI’s Houston field office.

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“This is a very important dialogue,” Rice’s Chief Innovation Officer Paul Cherukuri said to the group. “It’s important that we are gathered here today to discuss this. We are honored to host the leadership from FBI headquarters in D.C. and the Houston field office as well as many other leaders here. I understand these types of conversations present several risks for both the FBI and members of the Asian American community. 

“They tend to be challenging topics found during conversations, but they are critically important to ensuring research security policy protects both science and scientists conducting their work. This is an important topic that is actually very close to not only our operations but the mission of this university.”

In 2022, the Department of Justice ended its China Initiative — a strategy to counter Chinese espionage and threats to U.S. research security — after academic and civil rights groups raised concerns about bias and damage to the United States’ scientific enterprise. However, there have been reports of border entry and exit issues for Chinese graduate students and academic researchers who are green card holders and even American citizens, said Tam Dao, assistant vice president for research security in Rice’s Office of Innovation and a former supervisory special agent overseeing the FBI’s counterintelligence task force.

Hate crimes are underreported across the country and in Houston, according to one of the FBI agents. This conversation was the first step to developing trust and communication channels that can aid the Asian American community in dealing with discrimination.

Neal Lane, Steven Pei

FBI leaders stressed that their mission is to protect all people living in the United States. “We want you to trust us, so that when something does happen in this community, which I believe it does, that you feel comfortable calling us and that we can investigate it,” said Douglas A. Williams, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston field office. 

Stopping the transfer of U.S. research and technology to the Chinese government is important, the panelists agreed. However, there is more to be done to ensure Americans, legal residents and visa holders are not discriminated against due to this government policy, the panelists said. 

“There is still significant progress that needs to be made to ensure that the U.S. is a welcoming environment that can attract and retain the best and brightest talents,” said Gisela Perez Kusakawa, executive director of the Asian American Scholar Forum.

“We’ve talked today about the implementation steps, the progress we can make. (This) could prove to be one of the most important events that ever occurred on campus, so I’m very appreciative for being a part of it,” said Neal Lane, senior fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute and former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This event was co-sponsored by the Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program, Rice’s Office of Innovation, the APA Justice Task Force and the Texas Multicultural Advocacy Coalition with support from Rice’s Office of Research.