By Charles Bu, Professor of Mathematics
In June 2013, a group of Wellesley students and faculty traveled to Beijing under a major global initiative with a critical mission: to educate the next generation of women leaders around the world. Twenty students each from Wellesley and Peking University (PKU) engaged academic exchange with the theme “Empowering Women for Leadership: Challenges of an Urban Future,” supported by faculty from both institutions. Wellesley’s Albright Institute for Global Affairs has developed an innovative educational model for preparing women for leadership on a global scale, a pedagogy based on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving.
Prominent women from China and the United States, along with other special guests from around the world, spoke at a special conference to share their experiences and perspectives. These women included U.S. astronaut Pamela Melroy ’83, Yang Lan, China’s most celebrated media entrepreneur, Shirley Young ’55, former vice president of General Motors, and Wu Qing, daughter of Bingxin ’26 and strong advocate for women. Participants engaged and educated each other to help prepare the next generation of women leaders. President Kim Bottomly was interviewed by CCTV Dialogue Show and by reporters from major Chinese media outlets.
Many participants in the PKU exchange program offered high remarks. One student wrote: “Hearing from women leaders across all disciplines was inspirational! Not mention that having the opportunity to sit, eat and chat with women who are accomplished beyond words was once something I could only dream of having the opportunity to do! I know I can speak on behalf of all the fellows when I say how much participating in the conference added to our experience in Beijing. The speakers and panelists you lined up were absolutely phenomenal. On a personal note, this conference left me feeling more confident in myself and my leadership abilities. All of the women I met reminded me that, if I am passionate about it and if I strive for it, I can achieve success in any field of my choice.”
Another student said: “Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to participate in the conference. It was amazing! There were so many great alums telling their experience in the working field and inspir[ing] me to dare to dream. It also gives me the image of many possibilities that lay ahead of me. The organization of the event was so efficient and elegant that it left me with no doubt that women have the capacity to be more successful.”
As Chair of the Board of Admissions for 2012-13, I was part of our delegation to promote Wellesley in China. In recent years we have received a record number of applications from Chinese students and international citizens living in China. We met with many Wellesley alumnae in Beijing and Shanghai, high school principals and counselors, and prospective students from all parts of China.
The PKU partnership has been wonderful for Wellesley, for our students. However, 136 Wellesley professors signed an open letter to PKU in September asking for reconsideration of the partnership if Professor Xia Yeliang, an outspoken activist, loses his job at PKU. Later, the PKU School of Economics Faculty Evaluation and Appointment Committee voted not to renew his contract, citing poor teaching evaluation. The School has received more than 340 complaints from students. There is also criticism that Professor Xia has not published a single authored research paper in CSSCI (Chinese Social Science Citation Index) in the past 5 years. The issue is complex with only limited and contradictory information available, involving internal affairs of another institution half globe away.
It is worth noting that Professor Xia’s case has attracted disproportionate coverage from U.S. news media, mostly one-sided. The reason for the outcries perhaps is that Professor Xia happens to be an outspoken activist against the Chinese government. Anyone familiar with China’s history knows that PKU is the most liberal university in China. All of the student movements in Chinese history originated from that campus. PKU faculty members are known to be outspoken about their political views which cover the whole political spectrum. Nobody has ever been fired for political reasons.
Even in this complicated situation, our belief in academic freedom is firm. My colleagues and I welcome Professor Xia to Wellesley as a visiting scholar under Freedom Project, pioneered by Professor of Sociology Thomas Cushman.
Wellesley and China share a rich tradition dating back to 1906. Bingxin and Mayling Soong were distinguished Wellesley alumnae from China. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ’59 said that the Sino-U.S. relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century. Richard Nixon opened the door to China when China was far, far worse than today. Wellesley’s partnership with Peking University should continue because young people from both China and the United States benefit from it.
A previous version of this article misstated Xia Yeliang’s name as Yeliang Xia.