(New York, NY)– A broad coalition of higher education, free expression, and public advocacy organizations has joined PEN America to express concern about public reports that the U.S. government has advised some U.S. universities to develop protocols for monitoring students and scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions.

In a statement released today, the coalition warns that even with growing suspicion of Chinese espionage in higher education, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies threaten academic freedom and due process if they engage in surveillance of students and scholars based on their national origin.

“At a moment when tensions between the U.S. and China are high, open exchange between the two countries is particularly important,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of the Campus Free Speech Project at PEN America. “Though there may be valid reasons for concern about China’s attempts to engage in espionage or intellectual property theft, there are ways to defend against these threats without creating an unwarranted climate of fear and suspicion around students or scholars from China. While the exact form of the government’s directives—and the extent to which they have been implemented—remain unclear, even the news that such advisories may be happening can have a chilling effect. The FBI and other agencies must tread carefully and prioritize the protection of academic freedom, open inquiry, and scholarly exchange so vital to higher education in a democracy.”

The joint statement “advise[s] universities to zealously safeguard their independence—to maintain their commitment to academic freedom, to uphold the principle of due process, and to respect the privacy rights of students and faculty, no matter their national origins.” Signatories write: “The pursuit of scientific knowledge should be advanced under conditions of intellectual freedom without political or ideological restrictions.”

Today’s statement follows a joint letter PEN America and other organizations sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February expressing concerns about reports that the State Department was considering stronger vetting procedures for Chinese students planning to study in the U.S. PEN America has also consistently voiced concern over the state of freedom of expression, press freedoms, and related rights in the People’s Republic of China.

Read more about PEN America’s advocacy around freedom of expression in China, and about PEN America’s work promoting free speech on U.S. campuses.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892