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Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly issued a statement Thursday saying she was pleased that faculty voted to continue the college's partnership with Peking University. More than 130 Wellesley faculty had signed a letter earlier this year saying they would urge the college to reconsider its partnership with Peking if it fired an economics professor, Xia Yeliang, “based solely on his political and philosophical views." Xia’s contract was not renewed last month in a decision that many in the West view as retribution for his criticism of the Chinese government, though Peking maintains it was a result of his teaching and research record.
Bottomly’s statement does not speak directly to the issues raised by the Wellesley faculty letter in regards to academic freedom and conditions for collaboration with universities in authoritarian societies. Rather, the statement speaks more broadly to the faculty role in determining the future direction of the partnership.
“A dedicated group of faculty will develop Wellesley’s recommendations for the parameters and elements of the partnership,” she said. “These recommendations will be brought to the full faculty body at Wellesley for approval and will then be shared with faculty counterparts at Peking University for their consideration.”
Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Wellesley who was one of the leaders of the letter-writing campaign, wrote that she believed the letter-writers did in fact achieve a great deal. She said that the faculty action, among other things, “raised the question of what these partnership qua exchanges are about,” “reminded our colleagues they should not give up their control over the educational experience (writ large) of our students and that more transparency in the process is absolutely required,” and “made it clear that academic freedom and human rights matter even when we engage with countries whose political cultures are different from ours (and even when many of us disagree with what our own country does too).”
“Furthermore,” she wrote, “we have hopefully made it more difficult for Professor Xia to be persecuted, even jailed, at home and found a way to bring him here (something we did not expect to happen when we first began this process of questioning the partnership).”
In a previous statement President Bottomly indicated she is supportive of efforts to bring Xia to Wellesley as a visiting scholar, but Thursday’s statement did not speak to that subject. A college spokeswoman said that nothing has been finalized yet in this regard.