March 1, 2014
Are US-China Academic Exchanges Worthwhile?

by Shannon Tiezzi

Recently, U.S. academia and media alike have begun to pay more attention to the philosophical and moral issues that arise when dealing with an authoritarian government. First, there's the thorny moral issue of setting up campuses in China that have restrictions on the way history, politics, and other topics can be discussed. In addition, some are concerned that institutions with robust relationships with China begin to self-censor to avoid jeopardizing profitable cooperation with Chinese institutions. For example, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng claimed that NYU forced him out of his fellowship there in order to safeguard the university's new campus in Shanghai (an accusation NYU strongly denied). There's also been concern that Chinese government-funded educational initiatives like Confucius Institutes make it seem that the CPC line on Chinese history and politics has been approved by the host university.

At the Cato Institute event, Thomas Cushman, a sociology professor at Wellesley College, touched on the philosophical and moral issues that can stem from academic collaboration with China. As Cushman noted, the main argument for U.S. academic institutions interacting with China is that it's "good for China." There's a sense that such cooperation will help spread Western ideas and liberalize the academic environment or the country as a whole. Cushman posited that the opposite was true: Chinese involvement in U.S. academic institutions created more, not less, support for the CPC's policies in China's academic community. If the goal is "liberalize" China, then, such exchanges could be considered a failure.

For Detail