Leave a Comment
“He just wants to teach:” Supporters urge SIU to return Mingqing Xiao to campus
September 7, 2022
As applied mathematics professor Mingqing Xiao awaits sentencing on a minor tax charge, 59 people from Southern Illinois University (SIU) and the community at large have signed a letter to the editor urging the university to take him off administrative leave and allow him back on campus.
“We’re just trying to show the community supports him and we want him back,” said the letter’s author, Ed Benyas, a music professor at SIU and friend of Xiao’s.
Xiao was caught up in a government crackdown on China’s theft of intellectual property from academic institutions. A federal judge in Benton, Illinois, dismissed two counts of wire fraud and a jury ruled Xiao was not guilty of making false statements regarding a grant application with the National Science Foundation. However, that same jury found him guilty of failing to disclose a bank account in China.
On his tax forms, Xiao did not acknowledge an account set up for him by Shenzhen University to help cover expenses during his planned visits to teach there and recruit students for a joint PhD program with SIU – visits that were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He didn’t check a box,” Benyas said.
Xiao is holding up relatively well, considering he “doesn’t know if he’s going to lose his liberty or be sentenced to prison,” Benyas said.
Xiao will learn his fate at a Sept. 19 sentencing hearing in Benton. Benyas said he hopes supporters from the faculty, student body and community will attend.
“He just wants to go back to work, he just wants to teach,” Benyas said.
A GoFundMe set up by Benyas has raised just over $44,000 to cover what he calls “ridiculously high legal expenses.”
Benyas said it’s unfortunate Xiao was caught up in overzealous prosecution, in which federal prosecutors across the U.S. were given quotas for bringing professors to trial under a Trump-era policy known as The China Initiative.
Xiao’s colleague in the mathematics department, Professor Mike Sullivan, said, “No allegations have been made of intellectual property theft. His body of work is applied mathematics.”
Xiao’s research is routinely published in publicly available peer-reviewed academic journals, Sullivan noted.
“There are no national security issues in what he was researching. I don’t want to demonize the FBI or engage in conspiracy theories, but they are applying criminal investigations to sciences they don’t understand,” he said.
Benyas said he hopes the letter to the editor will spur activism on campus.
“I’d like to see the students at SIU have some concern about this xenophobic program and they should be concerned about their fellow students and faculty,” he said.
Sullivan said the China Initiative has had a quelling effect on campus.
“We have other Chinese American faculty at this school and they are terrified to apply for grants and that is happening all over the country,” he said.
Xiao was working on behalf of Shenzhen University to get students from there to come to SIU but that academic collaboration has “ground to a halt.” Sullivan said.
Xiao was academic advisor for many students at SIU, and he has to go through another faculty member to have any contact with them.
“These students are from China and Saudi Arabia, having to go through a third party to hear from their professor – what are they telling their friends about the land of the free?” Sullivan said.
Leave a Comment