Officials at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln believe a professor who had been leading students on a study abroad trip has been detained by Chinese authorities for undisclosed reasons, based on reports from the professor’s family.
Weixing Li, an assistant professor of practice management at the university’s College of Business Administration, has offered the monthlong study abroad program since 2008, and he had not experienced any problems with the Chinese government until now, said David Wilson, senior international officer at the university. Li’s family notified the university on Friday that Li had called his sister in China to tell her he had been detained. Neither the family nor the university has been able to ascertain when he was detained or his whereabouts, and his family indicated they believe he is still in custody.
“There’s a good deal we don’t know -- when, why or where he was detained, for example,” Wilson said. Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on Li’s detention.
Wilson said Li is not an American citizen, which makes obtaining information about his situation difficult. “We’ve been working with the American Embassy (in Beijing), but there’s very little they can do because this faculty member is a Chinese national.”
According to a brochure, the study abroad program occurred from May 5 to June 1. Out of the 18 total participants, 11 decided to stay in China after the program ended to participate in internships or other activities. Wilson said Li was detained after the program ended, so Li was no longer accompanying the students. The university notified the students who remained in China about Li’s detention, and about half of them decided to come home early, Wilson said.
“We have no reason to believe that our students are not safe, or that this detention is in any way connected with them, but we felt that it was important to share that news with them so that they could talk it over with their families and make decisions,” he said, adding that the news had not yet been shared with the rest of the university community. Wilson said he contacted some other institutions to ask if they have had faculty members detained abroad, and no one he contacted has had experience with this scenario.
Canadian-Iranian academics who fled Iran are protesting the decision by Carleton University in Ottawa to host a conference called "The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini’s Thoughts.," Maclean's reported. The university says that it simply let a student group (along with the Iranian embassy) organize an event, consistent with the principles of free expression. But a group of academics with personal experience in Iran have issued a letter asking how a university could host an event to honor Ayatollah Khomeini. "Through his 'cultural revolution' following the 1979 revolution, all Iranian universities were closed down for two years and thousands of faculty and students expelled, and many of them jailed, executed or forced into exile," the letter said. "We support, and many of us are engaged in, international academic collaborations. However, we think reputable academic institutions have a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye on atrocities committed against their colleagues in other countries. Providing a forum to individuals, who under the pretext of academic freedom, propagate the ideas and values of a regime that is known for its violation of all standards of academic freedom and rights, is far from promoting academic debates."
Foreign language instructors at Italian universities, typically born outside Italy, have some of the worst working conditions in Italian academe, The New York Times reported. Under various provisions of Italian law, they work at lower salaries than other university instructors, and tend to lack basic sick and family leave, among other benefits. Despite a series of legal challenges to this system as inconsistent with European regulations that are supposed to promote equity across national borders, and a series of court wins on the issue, most of the language instructors have seen little progress.
Many Greeks are furious with Germany over its stance on the economic crisis in Greece, but Greek students are flocking to German language courses, The Times of London reported. Students are studying at German programs in Greece or traveling to German-speaking countries to learn the language, hoping to stay and find a good job. "I think the situation in Germany and the way they live is of high quality," said Elena Mavromatti, a law student at the University of Athens, who is taking advanced night-classes at the Germanika language school.
The University Center of Samaria, an Israeli institution in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, is pushing to be declared an official university on par with those in Israel proper, and the request has angered many Israeli academics as well as Palestinians and others who oppose building up Israeli institutions in the West Bank, Haaretz reported. The center currently has temporary status as a "university institution," which provides for it to receive more money than colleges do in Israel, but not as much as universities. That status expires in July, setting off a debate over the future of the institution. The center enrolls nearly 13,000 students. Israeli politicians who are skeptical of giving up the West Bank have backed the expansion of the center, and are pushing for university status.
More than 1,000 professors at universities in Israel have signed a petition opposing any elevation of the center's status, saying that they are opposed to "the attempt to enlist academia in service of the occupation." Some Israeli university presidents have also opposed a new status for the center, saying that such a change would lead to more money being spent there at a time that the other universities need more support.
The Modern Language Association's Executive Council has approved a statement on the importance of language learning to U.S. policy. The statement calls the learning of foreign languages "vital" and goes on to explain why. "We believe this view should be uncontroversial; anyone interested in the long-term vitality and security of the United States should recognize that it will be detrimental for Americans to remain overwhelmingly monolingual and ill informed about other parts of this increasingly interdependent world," the statement says. "We are therefore deeply alarmed by the drastic and disproportionate budget cuts in recent years to programs that fund advanced language study. We believe that advanced language study is important for the same reasons many policy makers, advisers, and elected officials do: Americans need to be literate about the languages and cultures of the United States’ major trading partners, and Americans need to be literate in the so-called strategic languages important to national security."