Campus Reform | Cornell considers dual degree program with Chinese university; admin insists academic freedom not threatened

Cornell considers dual degree program with Chinese university; admin insists academic freedom not threatened

Cornell University is considering a dual degree program with Peking University — a Chinese school with close ties to the Communist Party and a history of suppressing academic freedom.

One professor told Campus Reform about their concerns with the program.

Cornell University is considering a dual degree program with a Chinese university that boasts close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

A proposal from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration would permit students to earn a Master of Management in Hospitality followed by a Master’s of Business Administration from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing, China.

“China is currently seeing explosive growth in the services sector, and is experiencing latent demand for MBAs with a specialized focus in hospitality at the executive level,” explains the proposal. “Peking University would like to help meet this need.”

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The program would be geared toward mid-to-high level working executives in the hospitality industry, who would complete the part-time program over the course of two years.

The proposal positively emphasizes the fact that Peking University “is considered one of the top two educators in China, and enjoys strong backing from the Ministry of Education.”

Indeed, the school recently adopted a new charter that cedes academic control to the Chinese Communist Party. In a case that made international headlines, former Peking University professor Xia Yeliang was fired from his post in 2013 due to his criticism of the Chinese government.

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Despite academic freedom concerns, the program was approved by the School of Hotel Administration’s graduate faculty. Nineteen faculty members voted in favor of the program, with two opposing and two abstaining.

Richard Bensel, a government professor at Cornell, spoke against the proposal at the faculty meeting.

Though he does not believe that the proposal would prevent students from speaking freely in classrooms other than those involved with the program, Bensel told Campus Reform that “any classroom with Chinese nationals in it can be monitored by the Chinese government.”

“How much monitoring goes on is impossible to tell but it might be substantial, especially in those areas in which political or social policies are covered,” he explained.

“As for this particular arrangement, I am opposed to restrictions on all intellectual and collaborative exchange that impose a ‘political filter,’” added Bensel, who said that the Cornell administration is promoting the program as a money-making initiative “in which intellectual and collaborative exchange are distinctly secondary.”

“It is for that reason that I cannot help but view the proposal as an endorsement of Chinese policy in Sinkiang and strongly oppose it,” he asserted.

Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff told Campus Reform that “the faculty senate discussion touched on extremely important issues related to our consideration of partnerships with foreign universities.”

“These programs are proposed by the faculty of the colleges, but must adhere to fundamental principles that include explicit protections of academic freedoms and prohibit discrimination against our students, as well as faculty and staff,” he explained. “Adherence to these principles is reviewed by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the University Counsel, and the Committee on Academic Programs of the Faculty Senate.”

Kotlikoff stated that “on the issue of the proposed new dual degree program, my suggestion was that going forward, the full faculty Senate could focus on more general recommendations that would guide college faculty and the university with respect to both our existing and proposed academic programs with a broad array of countries and academic partners.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft