China’s Academic Freedom Threat

The rise of China’s influence in the world includes its connections with American universities. And the Chinese government’s attacks on free speech make this a troubling development for academic freedom.

Bloomberg reports on how China is funding Confucius Institutes in America, and seeking to limit academic freedom.

When China demanded that a Stanford professorship it funded could not have a professor who discussed Tibet, Stanford refused and the Chinese officials backed down. That’s exactly what every university should do. In fact, all universities should join together and sign a pact declaring that they will not ever infringe academic freedom, at home or abroad, at the demand of foreign governments or their agents.

The Daily Beast reports on how American college programs inside China face even more severe restrictions.

The problem is that universities anxious to enter China are willing to sacrifice academic freedom, even if they won’t say so openly. To help overcome China’s censorship, universities should create a library service that will email banned articles (or search results) to anyone who requests the information. Universities must be explicit, to China’s government, and to their own faculty and students, that full academic freedom must exist in every program in every country.

2 responses

  1. Why limit it to “at the demand of foreign governments or their agents”? There are more threats to academic freedom from homegrown censors, in the government, on hate radio, and in the blogosphere.

    A professor is much more likely to be targeted by big-money Regents than by the Chinese government.

  2. Why are so many American universities “anxious to enter China”? I find it difficult to believe that it is “to build better relations with the Chinese,” as Carolyn Townsley claims in the Daily Beast article. Rather, it is, I suspect: a) to make money for the college/university and b) to establish the college/university’s international bona fides.

    Both motivations, of course, chip away at academic freedom. As Townsley herself admits: “We are not going to be deliberately 
insensitive to our partners by trying to be provocative in whatever we 
do at the center.” Being intellectually “provocative” and, when necessary, appearing “insensitive to our [business] partners”, are precisely the kinds of activity that are protected by academic freedom in this country. To disavow one or both is to disavow academic freedom.

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