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Legislature Questions the Security of University Research

February 18th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Following the firing of six cancer researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center in December for failing to disclose their ties to China, the State House set up a select investigative committee.

The Committee was told most universities rely on self reporting of conflicts Tuesday.

Tuesday was also Gator day at the State Capitol.

One of the first things UF President Kent Fuchs bragged to onlookers was how many research dollars are coming into UF.

“It went up seven percent over any past record. $929 million. Our goal is a billion dollars,” said Fuchs.

Research at Florida universities is a multi-billion dollar business.

State lawmakers want to know how the universities are protecting their work.

“To deal with potential foreign meddling in our research institutions,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls.

The University of Central Florida has seen one researcher indicted and another flee to China.

“We were very engaged with the FBI,” said UCF Vice President of Ethics and Compliance Rhonda Bishop.

Since the 2016 arrest, the institution has developed a list of red flags.

“Are they potentially receiving funding from a foreign government? Are there undisclosed affiliations with foreign entities?” said Bishop.

While the Chairman would not let the question about ongoing investigations be answered in public he invited committee members to inspect documents privately.

Whether there’ll be legislation this year remains an open question, but we’ve been told securing research will be a multi-year effort.

The reason: It’s complicated.

“I think most of us think if somebody is involved in a secret agreement with a foreign county that they work with and they haven’t told us, that certainly they could get fired. I think the Universities say well, if there’s tenure, we have to go through this process. That’s a problem,” said Sprowls.

But perhaps not for much longer.

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