Sunday, April 26, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

U.S. colleges finding ideals tested abroad

By
From page A1 | December 27, 2013 |

By Tamar Lewin

WELLESLEY, Mass. — Members of the Wellesley College faculty reacted strongly when word spread that Peking University might fire professor Xia Yeliang, a critic of the Chinese government. Xia, an economist, had visited Wellesley over the summer after the college signed a partnership agreement with Peking University.

In September, 130 Wellesley faculty members sent an open letter to Peking University’s president, warning that if professor Xia was dismissed for his political views, they would seek reconsideration of the partnership. The next month, Xia was fired. Peking University said it was because of his teaching, not his politics, but many at Wellesley doubted that. Still, after much debate, the faculty voted to keep the partnership, as the college president preferred.

Like American corporations, American colleges and universities have been extending their brands overseas, building campuses, study centers and partnerships, often in countries with autocratic governments. Unlike corporations, universities claim to place ideals and principles, especially academic freedom, over income.

But as professors abroad face consequences for what they say, most universities are doing little more than wringing their hands. Unlike foreign programs that used to be faculty-driven, most of the newer ones are driven by administrations and money.

“Globalization raises all kinds of issues that didn’t come up when it was just kids spending junior year in France,” said Susan Reverby, one of the Wellesley professors supporting Xia. “What does it mean to let our name be used? Where do we draw a line in the sand? Does a partnership with another university make their faculty our colleagues, obliging us to stand up for them? Do we wait for another Tiananmen Square?”

Wellesley is hardly alone in wrestling with these issues. Many American universities have partnerships with Peking University, but few reacted to Xia’s dismissal.

“We went into our relationship with Peking University with the knowledge that American standards of academic freedom are the product of 100 years of evolution,” said Richard Saller, dean of the school of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, which opened a $7 million center at Peking University last year. “We think engagement is a better strategy than taking such moral high ground that we can’t engage with some of these universities.”

Earlier this month, another prominent professor, Zhang Xuezhong, who teaches at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, lost his job after refusing to apologize for writing that the Communist Party was hostile to the rule of law. That university has many partnerships with foreign institutions, including an exchange program with the law school at Willamette University in Oregon and an executive MBA program offered with the University of Wisconsin law school.

With so many universities seeking a foothold in China — New York University opened a Shanghai campus this year and Duke will open one in Kunshan next year — concern is growing over China’s record of censorship. Earlier this year, the Chinese government banned classroom discussion of seven topics, including human rights and the past mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.

Of course, similar issues arise elsewhere. Last year, just as Yale was starting a liberal arts college in partnership with the National University of Singapore, the Yale faculty, despite the university president’s objections, passed a resolution expressing concern about Singapore’s “recent history of lack of respect for civil and political rights.”

“There’s a million unanswered questions about Yale and Singapore,” said Christopher Miller, a Yale professor. “We don’t know how much of the Singapore specialty of self-censorship has taken place. I continue to think the whole setup is inappropriate, and deeply regret that this was set up where it was and the way it was.”

Last month, Frederick M. Lawrence, the president of Brandeis University, suspended a 15-year partnership with Al Quds University, a Palestinian university in Jerusalem, after campus demonstrators in black military garb raised a Nazi-like salute, and the president of Al Quds, asked to condemn the demonstration, responded with a letter that Lawrence deemed “unacceptable and inflammatory.”

Syracuse University followed suit. But Bard College, which offers dual degrees with Al Quds, is staying.

Many American colleges argue that their presence abroad helps to spread liberal values and push other societies toward openness, whereas leaving would accomplish little.

“I think engagement is more important than rules right now,” said Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “It’s in our institute’s DNA to advocate engagement, because that process is what brings change.”

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, cautioned that universities must be prepared to revoke partnerships that violate basic principles of freedom.

“I do see value in liberal education, but you have to ask on what terms,” he said. “If a country like China wants to legitimize a cramped version of liberal education by attracting prestigious Western universities, there’s a real possibility of those universities compromising the values on which they were built because they’re so eager to get into China.”

Some universities, including Columbia, have created study centers rather than branch campuses, in part to avoid commitments that would be hard to break.

At Wellesley, the faculty protest did have some effect: Wellesley’s president announced that a faculty group would develop recommendations “for the parameters and elements of the partnership” to be approved by the full faculty. And Xia is being invited to spend two years as a visiting fellow at the Freedom Project, a program at the college.

But given that Chinese universities have many Communist Party representatives in their administration, Thomas Cushman, the sociology professor who leads that project, is still deeply concerned.

“We’re not telling them to adopt the Bill of Rights,” he said. “We’re asking what it means for Wellesley to work with a regime that instills fear in people. I’m concerned that a formal relationship could affect how we work here — that maybe in our exchange program, we’d only send people who talk about safe subjects.”

When American universities establish campuses abroad, they usually have explicit agreements guaranteeing free speech for faculty and students within the cloister of the campus — but implicitly accepting local limits on off-campus expression.

“As I believe would be true in any country,” Duke’s provost, Peter Lange, said, “your behavior there is governed by the laws of that country.”

That understanding also holds at New York University’s campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, both paid for by those governments. While John Sexton, the university’s president, sees it as the first global university, that vision has many critics. The faculty has voted no confidence in Sexton partly over this issue.

In 2011, after the arrest of three dissidents in the United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch called on NYU to protest: “Is NYU going to advertise the magnificence of studying in Abu Dhabi while the government persecutes an academic for his political beliefs?” Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East director, said then.

The university responded that in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere, it did not get involved in matters outside its academic mission.

In September, the NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors wrote to the trustees, describing their concerns about the overseas campuses. “Accepting vast sums of money from foreign governments puts NYU and every scholar affiliated with the university in a morally compromising situation,” it said. “In such situations, academic freedom is usually the first casualty.”

While working inside a bubble in a country hostile to free speech, the letter said, faculty’s important public role is stifled.

The trustees did not respond, said Andrew Ross, the head of the university’s AAUP chapter.

Comments

comments

New York Times News Service

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
     
    Davis team wins world robotics championship

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Nepal quake death toll exceeds 1,800

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Spring storm delivers late rain, snow to Northern California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    At the Pond: Plenty of pleasures in our bioregion

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Dog park marks anniversary with cleanup

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Rail-safety bill passes Senate committee

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Free Family Bike Clinic set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Pioneering organic chef presents her memoir Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Suspect in UCD assault arrested

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4

     
    Watch them in action

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5

    Stocks rise on tech earnings; Nasdaq adds to record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Dodd speaks as part of public policy series

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    We did it (together)!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

     
    $2.72 million judgment ordered against Dollar Tree Stores

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    UCD hosts bike auction Saturday, May 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Fly Fishers to hear about advanced streamer tactics on Tuesday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Bicycle activist will speak Monday at Hall of Fame

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Those texts still linger

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B6

     
    New ways of giving locally and beyond

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B6

     
    Study questions accuracy of tumor gene mapping

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    More work to do for a safe Picnic Day

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Poker proceeds help youths

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Invest in water of the future

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Water, water everywhere?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Mayor’s Corner: A spirit of renewal permeates Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    Anaheim, where The Force is with you

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    .

    Sports

    Davis gets two baseball wins in two days

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1

     
    Grizzlies dominate young Blue Devils on Senior Night

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Energy, fan-friendly happenings highlight UCD spring football game

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil golfers capture CAL Invitational title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD roundup: Aggies reach water polo semifinals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Blue Devil swimmers are up to the challenge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    DHS softball struggles continue against Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    Babich brings the heat as DHS girls stick it to Oak Ridge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    History comes alive in ‘The Sacramento Picture’

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big Italian food, sports bar to fill Little Prague

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A7

    Davis Roots hires new general manager

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Comcast announces speed upgrade

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

     
    Whitney Joy Engler

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Valente Forrest Dolcini

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8