A Dishonest, Indifferent, and Toxic Culture

It has been 20 months since the tragedy that a Ph.D. candidate Huixiang Chen from the University of Florida committed suicide, accusing his advisor Dr. Tao Li coerce him into academic misconduct. Our latest article dropped a bump into the academic world by exposing the evidence of those academic misconduct. The Nature Index followed up with an in-depth report with comments from scientists and academic organizations worldwide expressing their shock and deep concerns about this scandal that happened at the University of Florida.

At Early February of 2021, the ACM and IEEE Joint Investigative Committee finally finished the investigation of the ISCA-2019 tragedy and concluded:

The conclusion finally confirmed two important accusations listed in Huixiang Chen’s suicide note that:

  1. The review process for his ISCA-2019 paper was broken, and most of the reviewers of the paper are “friends” of his advisor Dr. Tao Li. The review process became organized and colluded academic fraud:
  2. After recognizing that there are severe problems in his ISCA-2019 paper, Huixiang Chen was coerced by his advisor Dr. Tao Li to proceed with a submission despite that Huixiang Chen repeatedly expressed concerns about the correctness of the results reported in work, which led to a strong conscience condemnation and caused the suicide.

Finally, the paper with academic misconduct got retracted by ACM as Huixiang’s last wish. The ACM imposed a penalty of a 15-year ban on participation in any ACM Conference or Publication to the offenders. As alleged by the President of ACM, certain of these penalties are the most severe ACM has ever imposed. The President of ACM also wrote a letter to Huixiang’s family to let them know the investigation result and their decision.

The saddest conclusion of the investigation is this one:

“There was clear and convincing evidence of breaches of reviewer confidentiality for HPCA’19, and ASPLOS’17 discovered incidentally to this investigation.”

This is not their first commitment to academic misconduct. This organized academic fraud has started at least since 2017. The same process that Huixiang suffered from, which could include review process fraud, abused and bullied by the advisor, and forced to commit academic misconduct, has been lasted for at least 2 years. Until Huixiang’s standing out, all the other students surrendered. The University of Florida and the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering just acquiesced to this and let this happen over and over again, leaving the students with two choices: either surrendered with a broken conscience or gave up his life for his pursing of academic integrity, as Huixiang said in his final words:

“I hope this will make a change in this world. I hope you can keep simple and stay honest in this society. I will bless you in another world.”

It has been over 10 days since this announcement. However, Huixiang’s family still hear nothing from the University of Florida — not a single word of explanation of this scandal that led to the suicide of their child.

We were shocked and confused by the responses of the University of Florida and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering after the suicide tragedy:

Dr. Tao Li’s academic speech at the Hunan University of China in November 2020

An intriguing thing happened days after Huixiang’s suicide. Instead of addressing the accusations, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering held an off-site event for members from Huixiang’s lab — the IDEAL lab. This event was also posted on ECE’s official Instagram account with text as “Students from IDEAL and ACIS Lab visited Busch Gardens for some fun today.” Until Huixiang’s suicide happened, the ECE department has never held any similar off-site event like this and posted it on their official public channels. We are really curious about what kind of fun they were having when a classmate committed suicide, exposing their lab's toxic environment with an academic misconduct scandal urging them to keep simple and stay honest.

If the University of Florida really does not care about academic integrity, if the school really does not care about the moral, health, and life of their students, if the school really does not have a basic standard of moral, we would suggest everyone who got or will get an admission offer from this school to reconsider and reject the offer until this severe issue gets fully and publicly addressed in a responsible manner. #RejectToxicUF

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