BEIJING - The University of North Texas (UNT) has terminated an exchange programme consisting of 15 visiting researchers from China who were working at the American university on Chinese government funding, according to local media reports on Monday (Aug 31).
The termination, which appears to be the first of its kind of a United States university cutting ties with a Chinese national scholarship fund, effectively ended those researchers' ability to remain in the country.
The researchers were notified of the termination last Wednesday in a letter signed by Dr Jennifer Cowley, the university provost and vice-president for academic affairs, and Dr Mark McLellan, vice-president for research and innovation, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported.
The university "has come to a decision to end its relationship with visiting scholars who receive funding from the Chinese Scholarship Council (also known as the Chinese Scholarship Fund)", the letter said. "As a result of this change, access to UNT e-mail, servers and other materials has been terminated."
It was not immediately clear why those Chinese researchers were expelled from the university. UNT did not elaborate.
The Trump administration has accused the Chinese government of sending scholars to American academic institutions to steal US intellectual property and advanced technology - accusations that Beijing has denied.
Mr Jim Berscheidt, a spokesman for the university, was quoted by local media as saying: "The decision is limited to 15 visiting researchers funded by this particular organisation, and does not impact any student enrolled and studying at the university."
Ms Liang Yuheng, who said she is an alumna of UNT living in Denton and is familiar with the situation, initiated an online petition calling on the university to overturn the decision. It had received more than 4,300 signatories as of Tuesday.
UNT did not explain why it abruptly ended its relationship with the Chinese scholars, forcing them to leave the US within one month, Ms Liang said in the petition.
"Now UNT, as far as we know, is the only school in the US (that) terminated their J-1 (scholar visa) programme (that was) financed by (the) Chinese Scholarship Council," she said.
The China Scholarship Council (CSC) is the Chinese Ministry of Education's non-profit organisation that provides support for international academic exchange with China and is the primary vehicle through which the Chinese government awards scholarships.
According to its website, the CSC has partnered with more than 20 universities in the US, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in government funding of scholarships.
This story was originally published by Caixin Global.