Inside: Chinese-funded project causes uproar at Cornell University

A joint degree program funded by the Chinese Communist government has caused an uproar among Cornell University professors, prompting the Ivy League school’s faculty to examine the extent to which U.S. academics should cooperate with the repressive regime, U.S. media have revealed.

Minutes and recordings of the meeting obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show that at a faculty meeting in early February, Professor Alex Susskind, associate dean of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, touted a joint degree program funded by the Communist Party’s Ministry of Education, which he said would generate up to 100 million dollars a year for the university. He said the program would generate up to $1 million in annual profits for the university.

Joint Degree Program Opposed by University Professors

Susskind’s presentation drew negative reactions from his colleagues, who expressed deep concern about Cornell’s ability to maintain academic independence in the face of the Communist government’s growing control over all aspects of civil society. The faculty senate (FSC) consequently postponed its vote in favor of the collaboration.

“When I talked to my colleagues at Peking University, there was a president and then a political official (who) showed up.” Ken Birman, a professor of computer science, told Susskind, “I wonder, how do we keep Cornell independent and unbiased and our standards?”

Susskind replied that he understood the concerns, but he did not believe they were “overwhelmingly significant.

The professors’ backlash prompted a top Cornell administrator to intervene, and he attended a subsequent faculty meeting on Feb. 24. There, University Provost Michael Kotlikoff issued a warning to faculty members who had raised objections to the project to stop interfering in the matter. Kotlikoff said, “The proper role of the Faculty Senate is really to set general principles.”

He urged faculty members not to block individual projects because of their personal concerns.

“According to the Free Beacon, Cornell’s joint degree program with Peking University is designed to expand Cornell’s footprint in China by catering to middle-level Communist Party executives and providing them with an American education under the guidance of Cornell professors. The faculty members’ backlash is due in part to the fact that the project appears to be motivated purely by the search for financial gain. Susskind repeated the word “lucrative” four times in one minute during his Feb. 10 speech, seemingly disregarding human rights issues in China (the Chinese Communist Party) in the face of huge economic opportunities.

The Chinese Communist Party has been a cash cow for Cornell University

Federal records show that the Chinese Communist Party has long been a cash cow for the Ivy League university, which raised $27 million from Chinese donors between 2014 and 2019. And the current genocide of Uighurs in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party has put this joint degree program between Cornell and the CCP at the center of a university-wide examination of the university’s close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

“If we started a joint degree program with a Nazi university, then we would say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t be doing this because they’re committing genocide.'” Professor Eli Friedman, who studies labor issues in China, said at a March 10 faculty meeting.

Susskind responded to the criticism by acknowledging that there are problems in that part of China, but said that tourism and hospitality are among the largest sectors of the Chinese economy. “Because we dominate in hospitality education, we want to be a part of that (referring to development in China).”

Susskind did not respond to The Free Beacon’s request for comment.

The Clarion project, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, said in September 2019 that it had found from U.S. Department of Education records that more than $10 billion had flowed to U.S. universities from foreign entities since 2012. Of that amount, $680 million came from the Chinese Communist government and went to 87 U.S. universities.

U.S. Professors’ Attitudes Toward Communist China Have Shifted

According to the report, the backlash against the program by Cornell professors stems from a recent shift in attitudes toward China (the Chinese Communist Party) in the U.S. academic community. Whereas a decade ago, many believed that increased academic engagement with China was beneficial because it might expose the next generation of Chinese elites to democratic ideals, today professors are questioning whether Cornell should have any ties to Beijing.

The report says the shift is the result of the American people’s growing awareness of the Chinese Communist Party’s repression, which is not only taking place in Xinjiang, but also at China’s elite universities. Cornell professors say the Communist authorities routinely suppress academic freedom on Chinese campuses, including at Beijing University, where authorities kidnap students and subject them to inhumane interrogation techniques for speaking out about their views on labor issues in China.

Professor Magnus Fiskesjö, a Cornell University anthropologist who studies Uighur issues, told the Free Beacon that these Chinese universities are often under the direct control of the Chinese (Communist) state, which instructs them to violate academic freedom and other human rights.

“I think this joint degree program is not a good idea because all these (Chinese) universities are similar in that they are all under government control,” Fiskesjö said. Fiszger said.

University’s defense of collaboration backfires

Cornell administrators countered the professors’ concerns by pointing to several ethics agreements with Chinese universities, saying the agreements would protect the academic freedom of students and faculty in the programs.

Friedman, former chairman of the China Ethics Engagement Committee, is not convinced that the provisions in these ethics documents will be actually enforced.

“We have good principles that are embodied in the university’s core values statement and in the guidelines for ethics and international engagement,” Friedman said at a March 10 faculty meeting, “and they need to be rigorously enforced, and right now, they’re not being enforced. “

The university responded to the Beacon of Freedom’s detailed list of questions with a statement from Provost Kotlikoff. In his statement, the provost was only able to repeat his assertion that the review of ethical aspects is the responsibility of the administration, not the Faculty Senate.

“My suggestion is that, going forward, the full faculty senate could focus on more general recommendations.” Kotlikoff said.

The faculty senate will take a non-binding vote on the issue March 17. Administrators could move forward with the plan even if professors disapprove, but the stakes are high. If faculty members vote against the joint degree program, they could also oppose many of Cornell’s other programs in China.