Professors are breaking the silence on China’s human rights violations

Dozens of American professors signed a letter asking universities to break their silence on China’s human rights violations as the CCP cracks down on Zero Covid protesters.

The letter's authors imply that universities have remained silent because of “research access, collaborations or funding” from China.

Dozens of American professors signed a letter asking universities to break their silence on China’s human rights violations. 

The recent letter addresses the former international students detained from the White Paper movement, the protests against China’s Zero Covid policies. The authors imply that universities remain silent because they fear losing “research access, collaborations or funding” from China. 

“We, a group of scholars and students from around the world, call on universities, faculties, and others to speak up for Chinese students and scholars at risk,” the letter reads. 

“Traditionally, universities have prioritized their research interests, while overlooking threats to academic freedom and issues of censorship. Few universities acknowledge the disparity in students’ rights to speak, let alone provide support to students when persecuted by authoritarian countries like China.”

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Signatures are current as of Feb. 17, and interested students and academics can still sign the letter. Signatories include academics from Georgetown University, Yale, the University of Chicago, and others who joined this international effort to advocate for former students. 

The University of Chicago’s Center for East Asian Studies previously issued statement on alumna Qin Ziyi 秦梓奕, and within one day, Chinese authorities released her from detention, “though other factors may have contributed,” according to the letter. 

One of the letter’s signatories told Campus Reform that East Asian Studies centers could issue a joint statement like that of the University of Chicago.

“The [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] and the Chinese Communist Party” are concerned with China’s “international reputation, especially from noted academic institutions,” Georgetown professor James Millward said. Xi Jinping sent his daughter to Harvard, after all.”

Millward, an expert on China, told Campus Reform that universities should speak out against restrictive visa policies for Chinese students and faculty to promote “open academic exchange.”

In a statement addressing visas for Chinese students, a State Department spokesperson wrote, “International students are a priority.”

We are committed to supporting the U.S. academic community and U.S. economy through efficient visa processing, while safeguarding border security,” the spokesperson told Campus Reform

Security issues at American universities, such as the “long arm of surveillance and punishment” from an alleged spy network, can keep Chinese students living in fear. Students’ criticism of the PRC can result in authorities intimidating their families back home, so dissidents often choose to remain anonymous on campus. 

[RELATED: Betsy DeVos says China is ‘attempting nothing short of espionage via America’s colleges and universities’]

Because of the PRC’s threat to Chinese nationals, Millward told Campus Reform, universities are “most effective” in addressing academic and political freedom. 

“If you have a gun to your head and thus don’t speak up, that is repression, not self-censorship, and that is what is going on here,” Millward said. 

“Individual students and faculty are vulnerable. Individual, smaller universities are vulnerable. But powerful universities, and especially coalitions of universities, can speak with impact and relative impunity.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.