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Editorial: Why are UNM regents wasting court’s time with questionable visa suit?

Perhaps it’s a classic case of “right hand, left hand” or “ready, fire, aim.”

Perhaps the folks over at the University of New Mexico Board of Regents haven’t heard federal judges in New Mexico are struggling under a massive caseload and what’s one more civil lawsuit.

Because there isn’t really a good explanation why the regents filed suit against the federal government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Attorney General William Barr last month in an effort to bring a Chinese researcher to campus.

The regents said in a court filing that Dr. Hongwei Gao was supposed to start a postdoctoral fellowship in the electrical and computer engineering department in August but hasn’t been able to travel to the United States because the Department of State hasn’t processed his visa application. Therefore, the complaint says, UNM “is suffering prejudice every day without the contributions he would be making in research and investigation.”

The problem with that legal argument is that a dean at the university says UNM no longer has any position for Gao.

“The person who sponsored (Gao) …is no longer with UNM,” Christos Christodoulou, dean of the department of electrical and computer engineering, told Albuquerque Journal reporter Ryan Boetel. “So this whole case is no case.”

Gao had been sponsored by a former assistant professor at UNM who is now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Gao was interviewed in May at the U.S. Consulate in Beijing – note: U.S.-Chinese relations have been a bit rocky with disputes over trade and intellectual property theft by the Chinese – and his application was placed in “administrative processing,” where it has remained.

The State Department won’t say why, and UNM won’t say why it has continued to devote time and resources to the case.

Despite the hand-wringing in the complaint, Christodoulou says UNM isn’t being harmed by Gao’s absence.

“His lack of presence here isn’t harming anyone. Not at all,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t need him for my work.”

Which leaves the regents in the highly dubious position of having gone into federal court with allegations that are highly questionable under the most charitable interpretation.

The university should withdraw its complaint before it suffers serious public embarrassment and perhaps even a judicial sanction.


This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.