“Is Academic Freedom Threatened by China's Influence on U.S. Universities?” is the title of a hearing held today by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the global human rights subcommittee in the House of Representatives and co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on China.
Smith, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, said the U.S. needs to take a long hard look at the costs and benefits of the growing number of Chinese educational partnerships started by U.S. universities and colleges, including exchange programs and satellite campuses in China and China’s recent Confucius Institutes in the U.S.
“We are seeing emerging faculty opposition to these Institutes, as well as to the all-too cozy and lucrative arrangements which American universities have with institutions affiliated with the Chinese government,” said Smith, who has held nearly 50 congressional hearings on the Chinese government’s human rights abuses on freedom of speech, academic, religion, the press and other basic human rights. “This prompts us, however, to ask the question: Is American higher education for sale? And, if so, are U.S. colleges and universities undermining the principle of academic freedom – and, in the process, their credibility—in exchange for China’s education dollars?”
“While foreign educational partnerships are important endeavors—for students, collaborative research, cultural understanding, and even for the host country—I think we all can agree that U.S. colleges and universities should not be outsourcing academic control, faculty and student oversight, or curriculum to a foreign government,” said Smith, citing the American Association of University Professors’s (AAUP) July 2014 report blasting China’s Confucius Institutes established in U.S. colleges. The report states the institutes “sacrificed the integrity of the [host] university and its academic staff” by requiring concessions “to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate." The AAUP report concluded that "Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom” and recommended shutting down U.S. Confucius Institutes unless they could meet certain standards of academic freedom and transparency. Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.
Testifying at the hearing were: Dr. Perry Link, Ph.D., Chancellorial Chair for Innovative Teaching, University of California, Riverside; Dr. Thomas Cushman, Ph.D., Deffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Chair in the Social Sciences, Wellesley College; Dr. Xia Yeliang, Ph.D., Visiting Fellow, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute, and; Sophie Richardson, Ph.D., China Director at Human Rights Watch.
While no serious scholar could argue that the U.S should not have scholarly exchanges and higher learning relations with China, Cushman said, there are troubling aspects of these relations that may infringe upon academicfreedom in American universities, and more generally on the right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He also noted the financial aspect of Chinese presence on U.S. universities.
“China is a rich source of revenue from the estimated 274,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., the vast number of whom pay full tuition and costs. Students from the PRC bring huge benefits to the U.S. economy, which are estimated by the Institute of International Education at $27 billion per annum,” Cushman said. Click here to read Cushman’s testimony
Dr. Link said that the Communist Party of China (CPC), which has continuously exercised one-party dictatorship over all programs of the Chinese government, has goals to advance its own power interests.
“Scholars in China have come under sharply increased pressure in recent months,” Link said. “Unsubtle guidelines that university professors must be ‘patriotic’ (i.e., support the CPC) and must oppose ideas like ‘universal values’ have been spread all across the country,” Link said. “The orders have been broadly obeyed, in part because of the punishments that disobedience brings. The few scholars who dare not to obey have been monitored, threatened, harassed, fired, beaten, indicted, or imprisoned—the degree of their punishment calibrated to the degree to which they persist in their dissent. Individual American scholars often speak out for their Chinese colleagues under pressure, but American academic administrators seldom do, and formal cooperation with the CPC—the oppressing party—marches forward. This is not because U.S. academic administrators are illiberal in their values; it is because they do not understand the realities of the Chinese side and are insufficiently diligent in discovering them.” Click here to read Dr. Link’s testimony
Dr. Yeliang Xia said he doubted how the New York University campus in Shanghai “could possibly avoid CCP’s ideological control and Marxist education while all Chinese students in the university have to take (five) compulsory courses in the first three years of undergraduates and two compulsory courses for the first year of graduate studies. It means the Chinese students who will get degrees of prestigious U.S. universities must meet the requirement for ideological and moral education of CCP while foreign students may choose take those course or alternatives of some Chinese cultural courses by themselves.” Click here to read Dr. Xia’s testimony
Smith said he will ask the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to review the agreements of both satellite campuses in China and of Confucius Institutes in the U.S.
“I would like to know if those agreements are public, whether they compromise academic or other freedoms of faculty, students, and workers and whether Chinese teachers are allowed the freedom to worship as they please and teach about Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan,” Smith said. “I will also ask the GAO to study whether U.S. satellite campuses in China operate differently from Chinese universities."
Smith said he would ask the GAO report to include whether Communist Party committees operate on campus, and whether fundamental freedoms are protected for both Chinese and U.S. students and faculty—religious freedom, internet freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association.