A tweeted invitation to a teach-in at Cornell University featured a photo of the “Pillar of Shame”, a sculpture reminiscent of the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, which authorities removed from the University of Hong Kong last year. was removed.
Subject: “Academic Freedom, Global Centers and Cornell Partnerships in the People’s Republic of China.”
Speakers: Yaqiu Wang, three academics from Cornell University with specialties related to China, and a senior Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The event was organized as a rebuke to the university’s growing involvement in China and reflects a broader trend of calls for colleges and universities to cut and sever ties with Chinese groups linked to human rights abuses. The call echoed previous demands for universities to sell fossil fuels and investments in apartheid-era South Africa.
Since last year, Cornell administrators have pursued the development of collaborative programs with Chinese universities. Despite concerns from students and professors about China’s pressing record on academic freedom, Cornell, renowned for its hospitality courses, went ahead with the Cornell-Peking MMH/MBA program, a dual-degree program in hospitality and business. Graduates will earn a Master of Business Administration from Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing and a Master of Management (MMH) in Hospitality from the Nolan School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.
The Ivy League School in Ithaca, New York also continues to expand its recently launched research exchange network with institutions around the world. Designated a Global Hub, the network includes six schools across China.
At the April 29 event, Eli Friedman, an associate professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) and chair of International and Comparative Labor, gave an overview of the history of American university engagement in China, while Peidong Sun and TJ Heinrichs , both associate professors in Cornell’s Department of History, spoke on the state of academic freedom in China.
Richard Bensell, a Cornell professor of American politics and host of the teach-in, told VOA Mandarin that the purpose of the event was not only “primarily to review Cornell’s involvement in the People’s Republic of China and academic freedom”, but also “basic ” had to be expressed. Information about that involvement to the Cornell community.”
Wang talked about censorship and self-censorship among overseas Chinese students.
She told VOA Mandarin that academic “programs in China are not the problem.” Rather, she said, the problem is that they do not follow the same principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression that universities in America maintain.
In July 2021, Cornell’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration and Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management launched the Cornell-Peking MMH/MBA program targeting mid- to senior-level executives in the hospitality and service industries.
Bensel and some other members of Cornell’s Faculty Senate expressed concerns about the joint program. He feared that faculty members traveling to China could land in legal trouble due to the country’s constrained academic environment. According to The Washington Post, in 2018, Cornell’s IRL school suspended two exchange programs with China’s Renmin University due to academic freedom concerns.
According to transcripts of Senate meetings, the Faculty Senate suspects that the program’s real goal is not academic exchange but revenue generation for Cornell.
The dual degree program is expected to bring in approximately $500,000 for Cornell starting in September 2022, with the potential to increase revenue as enrollment expands.
In March 2021, the Faculty Senate voted 39-16 against a proposed partnership with Peking University, according to the school’s newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. However, the “spirit of the Senate” vote has no legal imprint, so Cornell’s administration approved the project on May 28, 2021, according to a university press release.
In the fall of 2021, Wendy Wolford, Cornell Vice Provost for International Affairs, presented another initiative to the faculty. Cornell planned to build a network, the Global Hub, with top universities in countries that included China.
According to Faculty Senate records, many members were concerned that Cornell had not mentioned any standards or requirements regarding academic freedom and freedom of speech when selecting Global Hub partners.
In December, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution urging the administration to consult with the Senate before developing the hub in the future, Senate records show.
The resolution calls for Cornell’s continued expansion of cooperation, particularly in China.
Despite this resolution, the Central Administration continues to pursue the dual-enrollment project, as Wolford said in an email to VOA Mandarin, “At Cornell we are very proud of our active international community and collaboration; these connections have been particularly important at one time. When some would suggest that we turn inward, building walls instead of bridges.”
According to a March 10, 2021 Faculty Senate meeting transcript, faculty members supporting the dual-degree program stressed the importance of engaging with China.
“If you want to see change in China, engagement is the only way,” said Professor Connie Yuan from the Department of Global Development. “Present Chinese students options, and let them decide whether that option will work for them, and they are the ones who decide which way to go.”
He also questioned whether concerns about human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in China’s Xinjiang region, raised by professors opposing the program, were influenced by Western media bias.
“I think Western News and Eastern News (are) biased,” she said, citing another reason for voting for the programme. “I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. And I think it’s the Chinese government’s attempt to stop terrorism, but they may have gone too far.”
Push for disinvestment from China
Cornell faculty are not alone in their concerns about the business relationship of American academics with China. Since last year, faculty and students at several US universities have launched an initiative to audit China-related investments in their schools.
On April 26, the Athenai Institute, a student-founded non-profit pushing for the separation of American universities from China, tweeted an open letter for the presidents and governing boards of major public universities, calling for a break with China.
The group wrote, “We are asking you to take all possible steps to investigate the endowment of your institution, including the endowment of any institutionally related foundation, for ties with entities involved in the genocide of Uighurs, and such Including the separation from any holdings.”
US politicians, including former Secretary of State Keith Krach, have signed the letter.
John Metz, executive director of the Athenae Institute, said that in addition to ethical reasons, universities should pull business ties with China for their own business interests, as investments in a country involved in human rights abuses could be subject to future sanctions.
Students from Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Virginia and the University of California, Los Angeles are mobilizing to divest from China.
Metz told VOA Mandarin that “not only do[the schools]have the ability to be leaders on this issue, but it also makes financial sense to avoid risk and basically involuntary disinvestments and to avoid selling those investments.” Comes up. Or 70%.”
According to The College Fix website, in December, the administration of Catholic University of America began an independent investigation of its endowment for its connection to human rights abuses of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
According to the Yale Daily News, in January, Yale University’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility began investigating possible investments in Chinese companies linked to human rights abuses.
Metz told VOA Mandarin that the disinvestment movement is still in its early stages. But, he added, “we think that divestment as a strategy has great potential to expand beyond universities to other institutional investors, such as pension funds, and eventually Wall Street.”