Letter to the MIT community: Immigration is a kind of oxygen

The following email was sent today to the MIT community by President L. Rafael Reif.

 

To the members of the MIT community,

MIT has flourished, like the United States itself, because it has been a magnet for the world’s finest talent, a global laboratory where people from every culture and background inspire each other and invent the future, together.

Today, I feel compelled to share my dismay about some circumstances painfully relevant to our fellow MIT community members of Chinese descent. And I believe that because we treasure them as friends and colleagues, their situation and its larger national context should concern us all.

The situation

As the US and China have struggled with rising tensions, the US government has raised serious concerns about incidents of alleged academic espionage conducted by individuals through what is widely understood as a systematic effort of the Chinese government to acquire high-tech IP.

As head of an institute that includes MIT Lincoln Laboratory, I could not take national security more seriously. I am well aware of the risks of academic espionage, and MIT has established prudent policies to protect against such breaches.

But in managing these risks, we must take great care not to create a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear. Looking at cases across the nation, small numbers of researchers of Chinese background may indeed have acted in bad faith, but they are the exception and very far from the rule. Yet faculty members, post-docs, research staff and students tell me that, in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized and on edge – because of their Chinese ethnicity alone. 

Nothing could be further from – or more corrosive to ­– our community’s collaborative strength and open-hearted ideals. To hear such reports from Chinese and Chinese-American colleagues is heartbreaking. As scholars, teachers, mentors, inventors and entrepreneurs, they have been not only exemplary members of our community but exceptional contributors to American society. I am deeply troubled that they feel themselves repaid with generalized mistrust and disrespect.

The signal to the world

For those of us who know firsthand the immense value of MIT’s global community and of the free flow of scientific ideas, it is important to understand the distress of these colleagues as part of an increasingly loud signal the US is sending to the world.

Protracted visa delays. Harsh rhetoric against most immigrants and a range of other groups, because of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. Together, such actions and policies have turned the volume all the way up on the message that the US is closing the door – that we no longer seek to be a magnet for the world’s most driven and creative individuals. I believe this message is not consistent with how America has succeeded. I am certain it is not how the Institute has succeeded. And we should expect it to have serious long-term costs for the nation and for MIT.

For the record, let me say with warmth and enthusiasm to every member of MIT’s intensely global community: We are glad, proud and fortunate to have you with us! To our alumni around the world: We remain one community, united by our shared values and ideals! And to all the rising talent out there: If you are passionate about making a better world, and if you dream of joining our community, we welcome your creativity, we welcome your unstoppable energy and aspiration – and we hope you can find a way to join us. 

* * *

In May, the world lost a brilliant creative force: architect I.M. Pei, MIT Class of 1940. Raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong, he came to the United States at 17 to seek an education. He left a legacy of iconic buildings from Boston to Paris and China to Washington, DC, as well on our own campus. By his own account, he consciously stayed alive to his Chinese roots all his life. Yet, when he died at the age of 102, the Boston Globe described him as “the most prominent American architect of his generation.”

Thanks to the inspired American system that also made room for me as an immigrant, all of those facts can be true at the same time.

As I have discovered through 40 years in academia, the hidden strength of a university is that every fall, it is refreshed by a new tide of students. I am equally convinced that part of the genius of America is that it is continually refreshed by immigration – by the passionate energy, audacity, ingenuity and drive of people hungry for a better life.

There is certainly room for a wide range of serious positions on the actions necessary to ensure our national security and to manage and improve our nation’s immigration system. But above the noise of the current moment, the signal I believe we should be sending, loud and clear, is that the story of American immigration is essential to understanding how the US became, and remains, optimistic, open-minded, innovative and prosperous – a story of never-ending renewal.

In a nation like ours, immigration is a kind of oxygen, each fresh wave reenergizing the body as a whole. As a society, when we offer immigrants the gift of opportunity, we receive in return vital fuel for our shared future. I trust that this wisdom will always guide us in the life and work of MIT. And I hope it can continue to guide our nation.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif

                                         

致麻省理工学院全体人员:

 

就像美国繁荣昌盛一样,麻省理工学院之所以成果斐然,也是因为这个学校如磁铁一样,吸引了全世界的精英才俊。这是一个全球实验室,不同文化、不同背景的人在麻省理工学院相互激励,打造未来。

 

最近发生的一些事很不幸与麻省理工的华裔有关,对此我深感悲哀,因此希望和大家分享一下我的心境。我相信,他们是我们的朋友、同事,我们珍视他们,所以我们对他们所处的环境以及滋生这种环境的国家大背景应该十分关注。

 

相关形势

随着美中之间争斗继续升级,气氛越发紧张,美国政府对一些被指控的学术间谍案表现出严重关切,这些案件虽由个人所为,但却广泛地被认为是中国政府一贯以来为获取高科技知识产权所做努力的一部分。

 

作为包括林肯实验室在内的麻省理工学院的校长,我对国家安全绝不掉以轻心。我充分意识到学术间谍的危险,麻省理工学院也对这类侵犯防护有加,制定了缜密的政策。

 

但是在处理这类危险的过程中,我们必须小心谨慎,不能无端怀疑,弄得人人自危,人心惶惶。看一下全国相关的案例,少数有中国背景的研究人员可能确实有欺诈行为,但是他们只是个别案例,远非常见。但是,我们的教师、博士后、研究人员和学生却和我说,他们在与政府机构打交道过程中,受到不公正的审查,受到污蔑,感到紧张,而这仅仅因为他们有华裔背景。

 

这种事件有悖于或者说有害于我们这个大家庭的合作优势和热诚精神。听到华人和美籍华人同事这样的倾述,实在令人痛心。他们是学者、教师、辅导人员,是投资人、企业家,不仅是我们这个大家庭中出色的一员,还为美国社会做了出色的贡献。可他们感到,得到的回报是对他们普遍的不信任、不尊重,这令我非常难过。

 

向全球传递信息

麻省理工学院的全球氛围以及科学思想的自由交流,为学校带来了无可估量的价值。我们中直接了解这一点的人务必要认识到,这些同事现在所遭受的痛苦是美国向全球发出越来越强烈信息的一部分。

 

无休止的签证延迟,对大多数移民和其他群体言辞苛刻,而这又只是因为宗教、种族、族裔、国别不同的原因。这些行动和政策传递出了一个越来越强烈的声音,好像美国正在关闭大门,我们不再希望像磁铁一样吸引世界上那些最有追求、最有创意的人。我相信,这个传递出的信息和美国的成功是相违背的。我坚信,这和我们麻省理工学院的成功也是相违背的。我们觉得这会使美国和麻省理工学院付出沉重的代价。

 

我满怀热情地在此公开向麻省理工学院这个全球大家庭的每个成员表达我的心声:你们和我们在一起,使我们感到高兴,感到自豪,感到幸运。对我们在全球的校友,我要说,我们仍然是一个大家庭,因为共同的价值观和理想而团结在一起;对我们这个大家庭外所有才华横溢的人,我要向你们喊话,如果对创建一个更好的世界充满热情,如果梦想加入我们这个大家庭,我们欢迎你们的创造力,我们欢迎你们不懈的活力和热忱,我们希望你们能设法参加到我们中间来。

 

* * *

 

今年五月,世界失去了一个创意十足的出色建筑师,那就是麻省理工学院1940年毕业的贝聿铭。他在上海和香港成长,17岁时来美国求学。他为我们留下了一座座地标性的建筑,从波士顿、巴黎、中国,一直到华盛顿特区,乃至我们自己的校园,都有他的杰作。他自己说,他一辈子有意识地保持和他的中国根脉血肉相连。然而,当他在102岁逝世的时候,《波士顿环球报》说贝聿铭是“他那一代中最出色美国建筑师”。

 

美国这个卓越的制度也给了我这个移民成长的空间。正是因为有了这个制度,结果既深爱美国又不忘本色的佳话在美国才比比皆是。

 

我40年的学术生涯告诉我,一个大学潜在的优势就在于每年秋季那一波波的新生,他们带来了新鲜活力。我同样坚信,美国传统的一个独特之处就是不断有移民使国家历久常新,因为新来者有热情,有活力,有动力,又勇敢,又聪明,无限向往更加美好的生活。

 

为确保国家安全,为管理改善国家的移民体系,必须采取一些行动,为此绝对可以为一系列严肃的立场提供一席之地。但是尽管当下鼓噪杂音不断,我相信,我们应大声疾呼清楚传递的信息是,美国移民的故事是理解美国过去和现在保持乐观、开放、创新、繁荣的关键,这是一个不断更新、永无止境的故事!

 

像我们这样一个国家,移民像是氧气,每一波新移民都为整个机体输送新的活力。每当我们这个社会送给移民机遇这份礼物时,他们也向我们回赠通向我们共同的未来所需的动力。我确信,这一智慧将永远指导麻省理工学院的生活与工作。我希望,它也会继续指导我们这个国家!

 

谢谢大家!

 

拉斐尔·莱夫