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New Academia Sinica head ready to deal with problems

2016/06/07 15:59:24

Los Angeles, June 6 (CNA) University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) professor James Liao (廖俊智), the new head of Academia Sinica, said Monday he felt the responsibility of "going home to help deal with problems."

Morale at Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institution, has sagged in recent months as its previous president, Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) was embroiled in a conflict of interest and insider trading scandal and was eventually forced to step down in May.

In his first public appearance since being named to the post, Liao spoke at a press conference for Chinese-language media in Los Angeles about how he will lead the embattled institution and the responsibility that comes with the job back in his home country.

The Taiwan native said his main principle in addressing problems will be sincerity, which he said "helps solve problems more easily."

Liao also intends to step up communications with young people and give them opportunities and expects to talk to senior academicians and listen to different views on the institution's direction.

The screening process for finding Wong's replacement, conducted by a panel of Academia Sinica members, was said to be fractious, with different factions backing different candidates, and Liao acknowledged that mending fences will be part of his job.

All the views, even if they reflected different approaches and understandings, were "for the good of Academia Sinica and the good of Taiwan," Liao said, and he was sure that with an open mind and open exchange of views, they could gradually find a "common direction."

Liao specializes in synthetic biology and has been awarded for advances in the metabolic engineering of microorganisms to produce fuels and chemicals, and he was asked if he would bring his research to Taiwan.

He replied that he would not only bring the technology but the overall research approach to Taiwan, saying it was most important to introduce the concepts and systems as a reference for the country.

Amid reports that he was close to the previous two Academia Sinica presidents, Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) and Wong, Liao said he barely knew them, having had only limited contact with them in professional settings.

Given Wong's legal entanglements with biotech company OBI Pharma Inc., Liao was asked if he held shares in any companies.

The new Academia Sinica president said he holds shares in a company that received technology transfer from UCLA but has not taken part in its operations.

No specific company was named at the press conference, but Liao is identified on the website of biotechnology company Easel Biotechnologies LLC as its co-founder.

On another sensitive issue, Liao was asked about his dual citizenship in Taiwan and the United States, which is usually frowned upon for government officials.

But he said dual nationality was not a problem for Academia Sinica presidents based on the Nationality Act passed during former President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) tenure from 2000 to 2008.

As for his current status, Liao said he has been given a leave of absence from UCLA to take the post in Taiwan, but is still advising some students studying for Ph.D. degrees at UCLA.

Asked if he would assume his post before July 1, he said he was not sure because there were still several things he had to tie up at UCLA in a short amount of time.

Liao, 58, graduated from National Taiwan University and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.

He serves as chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UCLA, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 2013, to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2015, and to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) in 2016 in the United States.

Wong's second five-year term should have expired in October.

His resignation was approved by then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in early May after he was listed by prosecutors as a potential defendant -- meaning he was put under formal investigation -- for potential insider trading and breach of faith in dealings with OBI Pharma.

(By Edward Tsao and Lilian Wu)