The University of Pennsylvania is among a list of partner schools that have not responded to a recent controversy at China’s Peking University, one of the country’s top schools.
On Oct. 18, professor Xia Yeliang was notified that a committee of faculty members in Peking University’s School of Economics formally voted to end his contract at the end of the semester.
Many believe that Xia’s ousting was due to his political actions against the Chinese government. However, a statement released by Peking University stated that Xia’s contract is not being renewed because “he was not qualified for the position.”
Xia has told the media that he cannot say whether or not his political actions were the cause of his firing because he is concerned for his family’s safety.
In an email, Director of the Center for the Study of Contemporary China and political science professor at Penn Avery Goldstein said, “There is still a dearth of hard evidence about the basis for the decision not to renew his contract.”
Penn has many ties with the Chinese university. In March 2010, Penn entered a memorandum of understanding with Peking University, and many of Penn’s schools, including the Wharton School, the School of Dental Medicine and Penn Nursing, work closely with the Chinese university.
Penn declined to comment on the current situation regarding Xia.
So far, Wellesley College is the only American university to have responded to the situation. In September, a month before Xia was fired, Wellesley faculty members signed a petition that expressed their concerns about the partnership between Wellesley and Peking University if Xia were to be fired.
In 2008, Xia signed a petition demanding changes to China’s single-party Communist rule. In 2009, he wrote an open letter criticizing then-head of China’s Propaganda Ministry, Liu Yunshan, for which Peking University asked him to confess to wrongdoings. He did not agree to the university’s demands.
More recently, Xia has criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new catchphrase that promotes a “Chinese Dream.”
Penn’s Faculty Senate Chair Dwight Jaggard said in an email that Xia’s firing has not come up in meetings of the Penn Faculty Senate Executive Committee, but he would be “personally disappointed if his reported expulsion from Peking University was due to his speech, research or views.”
A graduate student at Penn, who asked to remain anonymous because she had previously worked at Peking University, said she would like to see Penn respond to the issue.
“I don’t know how or should the University respond,” she said. “But I have more expectations from [Penn President] Amy Gutmann. We don’t have to threaten and say we will stop working with PKU, but maybe a word of concern. I look up to Amy Gutmann as a scholar and higher education leader, so I would like to know what she would say on issues like this.”
Meanwhile, Penn continues to work with Peking University. “Many faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates at Penn interact with and benefit in their teaching and scholarship from ties with counterparts at Peking University,” Goldstein said.
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