School tries to accommodate Chinese students, worries about security risks from Chinese government

Faculty are trying to negotiate how to avoid both modification of the program and the use of content that could be subject to Chinese government surveillance.

Franklin & Marshall College has considered offering a program for first-year students based in Shanghai who may not be able to make it on campus this semester.

Other universities have terminated relationships with China over concerns of academic freedom.

Franklin & Marshall College planned to run a program for Chinese students unable to make it back to campus due to the coronavirus shutdown, but faculty have asked for more caution and greater oversight.  According to Inside Higher Ed, faculty members and the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors reached out to F&M’s provost with concerns about academic freedom.

“While we seek ways to welcome our Chinese students for the 2020-21 academic year we must be alert to how academic freedom violations -- however short-term they may be -- risks affecting all Chinese students, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong, who suffer persecution and the denial of academic freedom… ‘F&M at Shanghai’ must not include the teaching of our core curriculum and elective courses that will negate this freedom, lest it buttress Chinese government policies,” the faculty letter states.

They believe a compromise can be reached that will allow the program to run alongside the maintenance of standards for academic freedom.

[RELATED:  China’s presence at US colleges runs much deeper than Confucius Institutes]

Other universities have faced a similar conflict. 

In 2018, Inside Higher Ed reported that Cornell University had moved away from a partnership with a Chinese university, in part due to concerns of academic freedom, but also out of concern for the safety of students; the university that Cornell had considered partnering with had dealt harshly with students who advocated for laborers in a conflict earlier that year. 

“I accumulated enough evidence of students being subjected to forms of punishment that I thought represented in sum pretty gross violations of academic freedom and thought that something ought to at least be said about it,” Eli Friedman, director of international programs for Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Inside Higher Ed

[RELATED: Here are the Chinese ‘propaganda’ centers currently operating in the US]

In 2019, Wesleyan University introduced a discussion on the possibility of opening a campus in China -- and closed the conversation rapidly, following the protest of Wesleyan students

In the initial announcement, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth wrote that plans were “in the very early stages” because “there are serious concerns about academic freedom and a host of related issues.”

After students raised their objections, he said in an email that “further conversations with those who proposed the partnership have made it clear that our respective goals could not be sufficiently aligned—not to mention the questions we had around issues of academic freedom and the implications for our home campus.”

Some American schools that continue to offer academic opportunities through partnerships with Chinese universities include Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Dusquesne University, Missouri State University, and the University of Maryland

These partnerships are separate from Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes, which operate on dozens of college campuses around the country. Campus Reform has reported extensively on these institutes, in addition to legislation intended to combat China’s influence on campus. 

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