Professors Call for Transparency in Colleges' Ties to China

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March 30, 2021

More than 100 college professors and academics called for increased transparency in college administrators' dealings with China in a letter circulated Tuesday.

The letter, which received signatures from professors in international affairs, China studies, and law from multiple countries, said college administrators should more openly disclose their business dealings and engagement with China.

"Universities and research institutions in liberal democracies also have a responsibility to respond to transnational academic repression and to protect a diversity of views," the letter reads. "At a minimum, this requires real transparency over agreements signed with counterparts in autocratic states, giving priority to freedom of research and teaching, thought and expression in all such arrangements, ensuring the meaningful consultation and participation of academics with knowledge of such states in decision-making, and recognising and compensating for the risks that sanctions pose to the career progression of junior and mid-career staff."

Professors signed on to the letter in the wake of sanctions issued by the Chinese Communist Party on three academics and one German think tank in March. Notable signatories include Matt Pottinger, a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former deputy national security adviser who has been directly sanctioned by China, as well as Magnus Fiskesjö, a professor at Cornell University leading the opposition to Cornell’s cozy relationship with Beijing.

Beijing targeted one of the scholars, Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, after his extensive research on the buildup of Uighur concentration camps in western China.

China increasingly sees colleges and universities as opportunities for exploitation in the United States and elsewhere. Through business dealings with universities, Chinese Communist Party and Chinese military-affiliated institutions pour millions into research centers, joint partnerships, and Confucius Institutes—cultural centers used to disrupt academic freedom and often intimidate Chinese students.

In January, the Biden administration withdrew an order authorized by President Donald Trump mandating increased disclosure from colleges regarding their financial relationships with China. Local government figures and activists, including state governors, are instead taking the lead in the fight against China’s influence on campus.