Cornell University Partners With China Despite Strong Opposition and Threat of ‘Foreign Academic Espionage’

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Cornell University has approved a dual-degree partnership with a Chinese university despite criticism from several faculty members and students about Beijing’s persistent and atrocious human rights violations.
Cornell University has approved a dual degree program in association with Peking University. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Cornell University has approved a dual-degree partnership with a Chinese university despite criticism from several faculty members and students about Beijing’s persistent and atrocious human rights violations. The U.S. Education Department recently uncovered billions of dollars in unreported donations to American colleges from China and Russia.

Cornell’s proposed two-year graduate program would partner its hotel school with Peking University (PKU) in China. Students who graduate from the program will receive a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from PKU’s Guanghua School of Management and a Master of Management Degree in Hospitality (MMH) from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.

PKU is a major research university in China and member of the country’s C9 League, which represents nine national universities and accounts for three percent of China’s researchers, 20 percent of its academic publications, and 30 percent of its total citations. Although PKU was a hotbed of pro-democracy protests back in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the university is now more aligned with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) values and interests.

In 2019, the university amended its charter to give full control of its administrative and academic affairs to the communist regime. The decision was made following the shutdown of a campus society that attempted to help factory workers unionize at Jasic Technology factory in Huizhou City in light of its harsh working conditions.

The Cornell-PKU program is expected to earn the American university around one million dollars in revenue per year. The partnership proposal was approved on May 28 by Cornell’s graduate committees, and is awaiting a final review by the New York State Education Department.

Student and faculty opposition

In March this year, Laila Abd Elmagid, a student at Cornell, proposed a resolution at the Cornell Student Assembly. She raised several points of concern regarding the Cornell-PKU partnership, including the fact that PKU has a history of suppressing academic freedoms and silencing sexual assault survivors.

Elmagid stated that some senior faculty members and students who attended PKU felt like they could not “bring up sensitive topics” and were “walking on eggshells” when discussing matters deemed controversial. She also raised the broader issue of human rights violations in China.

“Cornell will be tainting its own reputation and names that were to continue such relationships… Not only that, but continuing to partner with PKU and other institutions in China normalizes and accepts the genocide that is currently ongoing,” Elmagid said.

The resolution, which asked for halting the dual degree program and creating a committee to oversee Cornell’s programs in China, was unanimously passed by the student assembly. In April, the Cornell Faculty Senate had rejected another resolution that endorsed the Cornell-PKU dual degree program, which failed with a 39 to 16 vote from faculty members.

In an interview with Washington Free Beacon, Magnus Fiskesjo, a professor of anthropology at Cornell, accused the university of turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the communist regime against Uyghurs. He expressed disappointment that the university would ignore the decisions made by both the student assembly and the faculty senate.

“I am disappointed with our university’s failure to express any concern for the mass racist atrocities now being committed by the Chinese government, which runs the entities we are collaborating with in China—Peking University is governed by the same Communist Party that runs the genocide,” Fiskesjo said.

Foreign donations

Cornell’s decision to partner with PKU coincides with several reports of foreign donations made to American universities. A letter presented to House Republicans by the Department of Education revealed the results of an investigation into institutions of higher education (IHE), which found more than 6 billion dollars in unreported foreign donations from adversarial nations.

“Some IHE leaders are starting to acknowledge the threat of foreign academic espionage and have been working with federal law enforcement to address gaps in reporting and transparency. However, the evidence suggests massive investments of foreign money have bred dependency and distorted the decision making, mission, and values of too many institutions,” the letter said, according to Townhall.

Some institutions failed to produce details requested by the Education Department about their faculty funding and business relations with Chinese, Russian, and Middle Eastern sources.

With reporting by Prakash Gogoi.

  • Steven Li is a medical professional with a passion for lifelong learning and spreading positivity and truth to the world. He has a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and a passion for business and marketing, cultivated through healthcare and technology-related consulting projects. He also has a love for music and the performing arts.