CHINA WATCHCornell University Profs Call for School to Halt, Reverse Its Growing Academic, Business Ties with China

By Wen Hao

Published 10 May 2022

An event at Cornell University, organized by three professors, which called for the university to halt, and then reverse, its growing academic and business ties with China, reflected a broader trend of calls for colleges and universities to cut ties with and divest from Chinese groups linked to human rights abuses.

The tweeted invitation for a teach-in at Cornell University featured a photograph of “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture that commemorates the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which authorities removed from Hong Kong University last year.

The topic: “Academic Freedom, Global Hubs and Cornell Involvement in the People’s Republic of China.”

The speakers: Three Cornell University academics with China-related specialties and Yaqiu Wang, a senior researcher on China at Human Rights Watch.

The event was organized as a rebuke to the university’s growing involvement in China and reflected a broader trend of calls for colleges and universities to cut ties with and divest from Chinese groups linked to human rights abuses. The call echoes past demands for universities to sell off investments in fossil fuels and apartheid-era South Africa.

Since last year, Cornell administrators have pushed the development of collaborative programs with Chinese universities. Despite students’ and professors’ concerns about China’s record of clamping down on academic freedom, Cornell, famous for its hospitality courses, moved ahead with a dual-degree program in hospitality and business, the Cornell-Peking MMH/MBA program. Graduates would earn a Master of Business Administration from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing and a Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) from the Nolan School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

The Ivy League school in Ithaca, New York, also continues to expand a recently launched research exchange network with institutions from around the world. Named Global Hubs, the network includes six schools throughout China.

At the April 29 event, Eli Friedman, an associate professor and chair of international and comparative labor at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILR School), gave an overview of the history of U.S. university engagement in China, while Peidong Sun and TJ Hinrichs, both associate professors in Cornell’s history department, spoke on the state of academic freedom in China.

Richard Bensel, a Cornell professor of American politics and host of the teach-in, told VOA Mandarin that the event was intended not only “to review primarily Cornell’s involvement in the People’s Republic of China and academic freedom,” but also to convey “basic information on that involvement to the Cornell community.”

Wang spoke about censorship and self-censorship among overseas Chinese students.