Cornell students, faculty oppose university's plan to partner with Peking U, with its ties to Chinese Communist Party

The student government and student advocates say that the proposed partnership raises concerns about freedom of speech and academic expression.

Several student activists at Peking University have been abducted by plainclothes officers in recent years, and the Chinese Communist Party has run patrols and inspections on campus.

Cornell University is pursuing a partnership with Peking University, a Chinese university where the Communist Party exerts significant authority and where several political dissident students have been abducted by plainclothes officers. 

Cornell and Peking University plan to offer a dual-degree program through which students could earn a master's of hospitality management along with an MBA, with the MBA being delivered by the Chinese college. 

Peking University, one of China's most prestigious academic institutions, has a cozy relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. In 2018, CNN reported that the Chinese Communist Party's internal committee for the university had created an "internal control and management" department in order to "enforce discipline on campus, including day-to-day inspections and patrols on school grounds." 

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Around an International Labor Day celebration in spring 2019, six students affiliated with a Marxist group were abducted by police, and a seventh said she was being hassled by police officers, according to CNN. The New York Times has also reported that a Peking University history student was abducted by officers and physically beaten in 2018. 

In 2013, the Washington Post's editorial board issued a "wakeup call" after Peking University fired an economics professor due to his support for democracy.  

Students told the Cornell Daily Sun that the agreement, now awaiting approval from the New York State Board of Education, should not be allowed to go forward. Kinen Kao, a rising senior, said, "If Cornell goes on to cooperate with Chinese Universities in any way, they'll just be complicit in Chinese universities' suppression against freedom of speech." The Daily Sun also reports that both the Faculty Senate and Student Assembly, Cornell's student government, oppose the partnership. 

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Despite this controversial plan, Cornell claims to stand firm on academic freedom. 

In a March 2021 statement, the University wrote, "We value free and open inquiry and expression – tenets that underlie academic freedom – even of ideas some may consider wrong or offensive. Inherent in this commitment is the corollary freedom to engage in reasoned opposition to messages to which one objects.”

The agreement between the two schools has placed Cornell students at odds with the school's leadership. The fate of the program, however, lies in the hands of the state board of education.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito