The nonprofit organization United Against a Nuclear Iran accused five U.S. universities of collaborating with Iranian entities sanctioned by the U.S. and the international community, according to the Washington Examiner.
The group noted that students and faculty from Virginia Tech University, the University of Washington, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Clarkson University, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette reportedly collaborated on various research projects with staff from three Iranian entities: the Iranian Aerospace Research Institute, the Iranian University of Science and Technology and Sharif University of Technology.
The accused universities and their justification
In December, the organization sent the universities a series of letters setting out the facts. The Washington Examiner contacted the universities for explanations, and almost all denied the allegations:
- Virginia Tech University: accused of collaborating with the Iranian Aerospace Research Institute on two research projects. A spokesperson indicated that "the university's Office of Sponsored Research has never entered into contact" the institute.
- University of Washington: accused of being involved in work with Sharif University. Michelle Ma, a spokeswoman for the center, noted that they were investigating the matter and that "the UW is dedicated to complying with all U.S. regulations governing international research collaborations."
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute: indicted for research conducted by two students in conjunction with staff from the Iranian University of Science and Technology. A spokesperson indicated that this work was prepared before any of the students began studies at the center: "We can confirm that there is no collaboration or partnership of any kind between the two institutions."
- Clarkson University: accused of collaborating with the Iranian Aerospace Research Institute on two separate research papers. The university claimed that it is "looking into this matter."
- University of Louisiana at Lafayette: accused for submitting a paper by a professor of electrical engineering in collaboration with staff of the Iran University of Science and Technology. A spokesperson noted that "the university does not collaborate with sanctioned entities" and that the work was conducted "with researchers from a university that is not a sanctioned entity."
Iranian entities sanctioned by the U.S. government and internationally
The Iranian Aerospace Research Institute is the only entity directly sanctioned by the U.S. government. However, the organization noted that Iran University of Science and Technology is a "consortium" of several institutions, including Malek Ashtar University of Technology. It was sanctioned for its support of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Sharif University was sanctioned by the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Collaborations between Iranian and U.S. institutions are a "big red flag"
United Against a Nuclear Iran Research Director Daniel Roth warned that the collaboration between U.S. citizens and Iranian universities and institutions is a "big red flag," as the research focused mainly on engineering:
We're very much interested in stopping any kind of pipelines that might provide the [Iranian] regime with technology, whether it's missiles, whether it's drones. ... But more broadly, we think that stopping the economic lifeline is a very effective way of preventing and stymieing the regime in all its nefarious actions.
Roth warned that collaborating with sanctioned Iranian institutions would be illegal. He acknowledged that universities should have valid arguments to explain the rationale for joint research:
I do believe that there is strong possibility that this would be illegal, and in the absence of these universities giving their explanation.