Cover Story

Double jeopardy

"Double jeopardy" Continued...

Issue: "Blind exiled brave," Aug. 10, 2013

Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University have operated a joint campus for more than 25 years. Duke University plans to open a joint campus with Wuhan University some 40 miles west of Shanghai in 2014. Bloomberg News reported the city of Kunshan would spend an estimated $260 million to build the campus. Duke’s share over six years: $43 million. NYU is set to open its campus in Shanghai next month. The Wall Street Journal reported the local Chinese government agreed to cover construction and educational costs, and estimated the Chinese investment in the 15-floor NYU Shanghai university campus at $104 million.

The Shanghai campus is NYU’s second international site. The school opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2010, with heavy subsidies from its government. The United Arab Emirate’s initial investment was $50 million for the luxury campus, but NYU President John Sexton said the subsidies would go far higher.

The Abu Dhabi arrangement rankled some NYU faculty. They worried about entanglement with a repressive regime, and wondered about academic freedoms. They said the school was spreading itself too thin. They complained the process didn’t seem transparent. 

Such tumult hasn’t marked the Shanghai campus opening, and NYU officials say the school has agreements to ensure academic freedom. But concerns persist. For example, in May the Chinese Communist Party reportedly banned the discussion of seven subjects in university classrooms, including citizen rights, freedom of the press, and judicial independence. 

Cary Nelson, a past president of the American Association of University Professors, told the Chronicle of Higher Education college officials are “spinning fantasies if they think that’s not a problem.”

Other problems can develop stateside as schools try to attract a burgeoning number of Chinese students to their U.S. campuses. More than 194,000 Chinese students enrolled in American universities in 2011. That’s up 23 percent from the previous year. NYU hosts the third highest number of international students in the country.

Perry Link, a China scholar at the University of California, Riverside, says connections to China can foster a dynamic of “induced self-censorship” for those who fear backlash—especially students or scholars who need to travel to China for their studies or their careers.

Link knows the risks firsthand. After writing extensively about China, including some of the country’s human rights abuses, Chinese officials barred him from entering the country. Link says authorities turned him around at the Beijing airport in 1996. He hasn’t returned since. 

He’s not alone: The Chinese government has blacklisted other American professors who have written controversial works about China’s government, including 13 professors who contributed to Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland, a 2004 book about the Muslim separatist movement in Xinjiang province. 

The professors—dubbing themselves the “Xinjiang 13”—said officials at their universities were reluctant to press Chinese authorities about their travel bans. Dru Gladney, an anthropology professor at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., told Bloomberg in 2011 colleges are “so eager to jump on the China bandwagon, they put financial interests ahead of academic freedom.”

Link says self-censorship can be subtler. He had a colleague who wouldn’t appear on a news program to discuss China because she worried it would affect her visa. 

He described a graduate student during his time at Princeton who wanted to write about Chinese democracy for his thesis. His adviser squelched the idea, saying he could jeopardize his chances at traveling to the country. “That’s the kind of thing that happens,” says Link. “And I see an example of that once or twice a month.”

(Earlier this year, Fordham law professor Wesley Smith noted that the deans of leading law schools in the U.S. met with Chinese law professors in Beijing in 2011, but didn’t express concern over a brutal crackdown on Chinese human rights attorneys.)

Link says schools with joint campuses in China aren’t always “clear-headed” about what they’re getting into: “There’s no doubt that Beijing’s aim is to influence American scholarly opinion. … If you can get scholars to self-censor, they’re going to write about China in ways that are more acceptable to the Chinese government.”

Steven Mosher’s writings weren’t acceptable to the Chinese government or to Stanford University. Mosher thought his colleagues would be horrified to read his accounts of forced abortions in China when he returned to California in 1981. They weren’t.

Instead, Mosher says the Chinese government successfully pressured Stanford to withhold his doctoral degree because of his exposure of forced abortions as part of a one-child policy that has now yielded 336 million abortions since 1971.

Mosher says his Christian conversion began in the forced abortion rooms of China: “I saw hell open up before me.” He still thinks pro-life supporters are carrying a mantle others don’t pursue: “The fact that pro-lifers have been outraged by the abuses Chen documented has not been matched by an equivalent amount of outrage on the left.”

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