According to a recent article in University World News, Global Edition, “China has stepped up pressure on ethnic minority students and lecturers in the restive northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, insisting that students must pass a test of political views and declare their allegiance to the Chinese state in order to graduate.”
Near the end of the article, the author quotes from Global Times, a party publication: “’The principals and the party secretaries in local universities agreed that the education system is one of the main battlefields against separatism, so being politically qualified is the prime request.’”
And the article closes with a quote from Li Zhongyao, party secretary of Xinjiang University, who was speaking at a regional education conference: “’University students should safeguard ethnic unity and oppose separatism and that is the most important task of Xinjiang universities.”
According to Alim Seytoff, a spokesperson for the exile group World Uyghur Congress, what this means is that “’Uyghur students not only have to pass the ideology tests, but throughout their college lives they have to prove their ultimate loyalty to the Chinese government’”—so that “if an incident occurred in the region, the authorities ‘may force a Uyghur student to accuse other Uyghur students, and if they refuse, then the Chinese state would see that as disloyalty and a failure of the ‘test.’”
In response to such a news story, most American academics and students—indeed, most Americans—would sigh and think again how fortunate they are to live and work in this country and not in countries governed by much more repressive regimes.
And I am not going to challenge that perception—at least not entirely.
But consider the following paragraph from an article in The State, the daily newspaper published in Columbia, South Carolina, some Conservative students and legislators are challenging the administration at the University of South Carolina to adhere to an almost forgotten state statute, passed almost a 100 years ago, requiring a year of instruction in the country’s “founding documents.”
In response to the complaints, the president of the university, Harris Pastides, has pointed out that about two-thirds of the students enrolled at the university are taking one of three courses that would meet the requirements of the statute and that meeting the letter of the statute would undoubtedly significantly delay many students’ progress toward degrees.
More notably, he has pointed out that another provision of the statute—that graduation be contingent on a profession of loyalty to the United States—would almost certainly be found unconstitutional if it were legally challenged.