Roth found guilty

UT professor (emeritus) J. Reece Roth has been found guilty on 18 counts of violating the Arms Control Export Act.

I take no joy in this, as he was a technically gifted professor from whom my children will not have the opportunity to learn.  However, having grown up in a city where national security secrets are taken very seriously, I know that he exercised exceedingly poor judgment.  Although fully cognizant of the high proportion of foreign students in graduate school — especially in science, math, and engineering — I simply do not believe that he couldn’t find qualified US citizens among his grad students to do this work.

Maybe there was a little bit of ego involved.  Roth was an "honorary professor" at two Chinese universities, and was regarded as something of a plasma physics celebrity there.

In this country, we need to get far more serious about preparing our middle and high school students to pursue these challenging fields in college, so we can fill up the graduate programs with home-grown scientists and engineers.  I’m fully aware of the benefits of a diverse society, and that we need people educated in business, English lit, and all those other things… but right now, the odds are seriously against us in math and physical sciences.

Hopefully, this conviction will cause universities all over this nation — and especially at UT — to really take a hard look at work that has, or could have, national security implications.   That doesn’t mean don’t do it, but it means don’t involve foreign nationals in those projects.

And we’ve got to do a better job of preparing students to fill the void.

4 Responses to “Roth found guilty”

  1. on 03 Sep 2008 at 4:28 pm Lydia Nusk

    Keep in mind that American students favor getting jobs as soon as possible and aren’t as likely to go to graduate schools. American high-tech favors experience on the job, and your value as a worker is based on your experience rather than on a higher degree. So this is why graduate schools are full of foreigh students. Without knowing the facts I can just imagine this case was unfair to Prof. Roth especially if the material he was carrying around was published material. Being an acedemic he was probably enthusiastic about sharing results with other academics as opposed to the Chinese intelligence.

  2. on 03 Sep 2008 at 7:16 pm Joel

    “I simply do not believe that he couldn’t find qualified US citizens among his grad students to do this work.”

    As someone who has been on the graduate faculty in the sciences for over 21 years, has trained five Ph.D. students (only two were US citizens) and sat on thesis committees of over 25 students, I can tell you that (a) American students in the sciences are harder and harder to come by and (b) the foreign grad students are often among the best.

    So yeah, perhaps he could have found “qualified” American students, but maybe he preferred quality over citizenship.

    I grew up in the same city you did. I don’t support criminal behavior under any circumstances and I don’t know the details of this case, but the heavy handed and sometimes irrational behaviors this government has been indulging in in the name of “national security” make me suspicious that this could be a case of overkill. I certainly no longer believe that my government enjoys the benefit of the doubt in such matters.

  3. on 03 Sep 2008 at 7:35 pm Netmom

    In a couple of earlier KNS articles, it was reported that UT’s compliance officer had warned him earlier that he was in violation. So, he had a heads-up, but continued his course.

    I don’t doubt the “quality over citizenship” bit; that’s why I assert that we — in K-12 — have to do more to fill the pipeline for you. But, you profs have to do your part once we get them there.

  4. on 03 Sep 2008 at 10:13 pm Joel

    “But, you profs have to do your part once we get them there.”

    The vast majority of us do, Netmom. The competency of most US undergrads in math and science is so far behind Europe and Asia that it is pathetic. China and India will be eating our lunch in 10 years or less.

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