March 28, 2019

EDITORIAL: Cornell’s Hush-Hush Huawei Ties

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Thursday’s news that Cornell quietly took millions in research contracts from Chinese telecom firm Huawei is alarming enough. But the University’s refusal to provide details about said contracts makes for an utter transparency failure. Cornell must acknowledge the perils of working with a firm wedded to China’s autocracy — and reveal the nature of its Huawei ties.

Public data from the Department of Education shows that Cornell took $5.3 million from Huawei in 2017 via two research contracts. That’s troubling. Huawei is a secretive firm, shielded from foreign investment and, thus, outside scrutiny. It is also likely penetrated by the Chinese government, according to China experts.

Worries abound. Did the University, as part of its research agreement, disclose the personal information of students or faculty to Huawei? What proprietary technology did Cornell share with the Chinese firm? Why didn’t this multi-million dollar partnership earn even a terse press release? What is Cornell concealing about its partnership?

And most worrying of all: Why was the University so tight-lipped? The administration declined to detail any of the areas on or channels through which research contracts were executed — beyond explaining that these research contracts are, in the University’s nondescript description, “research agreements.”

It’s reasonable to expect Cornell to account for its institutional collaboration with a state-backed multinational firm. Indeed, it is a basic level of disclosure. In stonewalling bare-minimum transparency, the University has made it clear where its priorities lie. Whether for the $5.3 million or for the cutting-edge research, Cornell would rather keep its Huawei ties mum than do what’s right.

Maybe the University doesn’t think it’s a big deal to be working with Huawei. Maybe it’s hiding something compromising. Or maybe it just doesn’t care about transparency.

But whether negligence, corruption or apathy is guiding the administration, the responsible move remains the same. Cornell must tell us how its relationship with Huawei works. Until then, it will join potential labor abuses at Cornell’s Qatar campus and the Trustees’ refusal to divest from fossil fuels as a weighty millstone around the University’s neck.

The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage and op-eds.