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Suggestions to Counter Academic Freedom Threats From China

March 22, 2019
 
 

Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a 12-point code of conduct to help colleges counter Chinese government efforts to undermine academic freedom abroad. The proposed code of conduct is based on interviews with more than 100 academics, graduate students and administrators at universities in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Interviewees identified a range of concerns, including surveillance of students and academics from China by Chinese authorities and problems related to censorship and self-censorship.

Among the recommendations included in the code of conduct are that universities strengthen academic freedom on campus, in part by publicizing policies stipulating that classroom discussions should be kept to the confines of the campus and not be reported to foreign missions; that they develop mechanisms, such as an ombudsman, to which pressures or threats from the Chinese government in response to research or speech can be reported; and that they join with other universities in promoting research in China, “including by making public statements and complaints where appropriate, in the event of unwarranted visa denials or prolonged delays for research in China.”

The code also recommends that universities offer flexibility to students and scholars studying China to “ensure that a scholar’s career advancement or a student’s progress will not be compromised if their research has to change direction due to Chinese government restrictions on research or access to source material in China.”

Among other recommendations, Human Rights Watch suggests that universities require all campus organizations that receive funding from Chinese government-linked entities -- such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association -- report this information. And it recommends that colleges ensure academic freedom in their Chinese exchange programs and branch campuses and that they refrain from hosting the controversial Confucius Institutes, Chinese-government funded centers that typically offer language classes and cultural programs.

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