Emory professors and co-lab leaders Li Xiaojiang and Li Shishua in the School of Medicine’s Department of Human Genetics were fired, and their laboratory was shut down after they failed to disclose grants they received from institutions in China.  The two professors are well known for their research on Huntington’s Disease using mouse and pig models.

The University’s internal investigation into the professors came after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sent a letter to several universities regarding research funding, according to a University statement published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). In August 2018, the NIH released a statement regarding failure across institutions to disclose all research resources and “risk to intellectual property security.” The NIH said in its statement that it would work to improve its accuracy of reporting sources of funding.  

“Emory discovered that two of its faculty members … had failed to fully disclose foreign sources of research funding and the extent of their work for research institutions and universities in China,” the University statement reads. “The faculty members are no longer employed at Emory.”

The professors, who are married, are U.S. citizens and have worked at Emory for 23 years, according to Science magazine. Li Xiaojiang disputes the University’s statement that he and his wife failed to disclose the extent of their funding ties to China.

“I was shocked that Emory University would terminate a tenured professor in such an unusual and abrupt fashion,” Li Xiaojiang said.

Li Xiaojiang was informed that he had been fired while traveling in China on May 16, according to Science magazine. Four postdoctoral students working in the lab who are Chinese nationals were also dismissed and asked to leave the U.S. within 30 days.

“[They closed] our combined lab consisting of a number of graduates and postdoctoral trainees without giving me specific details for the reasons behind my termination,” Li Xiaojiang told Science magazine.

The Trump administration has scrutinized U.S.-China relations, including at American universities. Last year, San Francisco State University, the University of Oregon, and Western Kentucky all closed their Chinese government-backed Confucius Institutes, according to Inside Higher Ed, though Emory’s chapter has remained active since 2008. A Chinese government official warned residents last week that the United States might limit the number of student visas offered to Chinese nationals.